IT Credibility Challenge #1: Understanding

The reality is IT remains misunderstood. While there is little disagreement about this, I’ve found there is great difference of opinion about who should fix it. The feedback I get on this topic falls into two basic categories:

  • CIOs who accept it as their job; they want to bridge the gap and improve understanding.
  • CIOs who think the business should change; they resent the problem and see the business team as basically stupid, over-demanding and not wanting to take responsibility for anything.
  • The fact is not only do most business people not understand IT, they don’t want to. They want the benefit IT provides, but don’t really care to understand the technology. The problem is, if you are not understood your credibility will be low and your job will be harder. Any executive with low credibility will be faced with lots of obstacles and stupid questions in the form of: Why are you doing that? Why does it cost so much? Why can’t we cut the budget? Why aren’t you doing this instead?

    Executives with high credibility get stuff done faster without this hassle. And CIOs with high credibility get their “seat at the table” and can influence IT and business decisions on the front end instead of always needing to react to them. Understanding breeds credibility, and credibility breeds political power, which gets the target off your back.

    It’s Up to You

    Your business counterparts will probably never make the effort to bridge this gap. And, in reality, business people generally don’t have the capability to understand what you do even if they wanted to. Because of the vastness of technology and years of experience you have, it is just not possible for a non-technical executive to understand and appreciate what you do, let alone how you do it.

    So, even if you feel like this misunderstanding is unfair, that it’s the fault of the business, or is bad publicity brought on by consultants, your choices are either to step up to improve understanding, or continue dealing with the problems that come from being respected only as a technology guru who doesn’t understand business.

    First and foremost, however, before any real change can take place, you have to be doing a good job. I know this goes without saying, but this is the first step in building credibility. The last thing I recommend is to go forth trying to get recognition and build credibility if the results aren’t there to back it up. Still, you must do both. Either one on its own doesn’t work.

    Many people, not just in IT, believe good results should be enough to earn recognition and credibility, but it’s not. Good work does not stand on its own.
    For an IT department this is especially true. Think about it, if the business doesn’t understand IT in the first place, they are not capable of recognizing what is good work. It’s like being hired as an Opera critic only having listened to Rock & Roll your whole life. It’s up to you to get the value of your work recognized.

    It is possible to create a way for IT to be understood by the business, but it has to be on their terms, not yours. There are four key areas you will need to focus on:

  • Forge relationships with business counterparts;
  • Map IT to business-defined outcomes;
  • Deliver and Manage IT services in a way the business can understand; and
  • Communicate consistently outside of IT.
  • Relationships

    Credibility and political power do not come from technology, they come only from relationships. You will need to identify who the stakeholders and influencers are in your unique environment and build relationships with them.