IT managers and C-suite executives could, for all they know, be speaking different languages when they try to communicate with each other.

While one side talks about servers, mainframes and workloads, the other only wants to hear about the business case behind every investment decision.

How much will it cost? What's the return on investment? And why do we need it? Questions like these abound when IT managers approach board leaders for funding.

Bridging Communication Gaps

But getting CEOs and other c-suite board members on side with IT innovation doesn’t have to be difficult.

According to Gartner’s 2015 CEO survey, 18 percent of the most important strategic decisions that chief executives want to introduce to their businesses involve IT or digital innovation.

Another 63 percent of CEOs said that they would increase investment in their businesses’ IT infrastructure. With executives keen to invest in IT, securing funding is a matter of clear communication.

However, traditionally, this is something that is difficult for IT managers and their executives to achieve. So how can IT teams best approach this kind of information?

Think In Outcomes

When talking to C-suite members it is important to always be thinking in outcomes. Outcomes — what IT managers and teams can deliver — are what matters.

Strong outcomes can help demonstrate a clear business case that will result in funding for new projects. However, there are a number of clear pitfalls to avoid in this area.

IT managers should avoid jargon when they are addressing Ç-suite questions or concerns. In the same way that a doctor should never communicate to their patient in medical mumbo-jumbo, IT managers need to break down the information they are discussing clearly and succinctly to fully engage their audiences.

IT professionals are already acutely aware of their communication problems with board leaders. Just 4 percent of IT managers think they are highly effective when it comes to discussing ideas with their non-IT colleagues.

Instead of sharing data that is specific to their expertise or providing reams of documents that analyze every application, system, or cloud node, IT managers should focus on the bigger picture. In addressing a c-suite meeting, IT professionals need to focus on the language of their stakeholders, not their fellow IT colleagues.

Finding Common Language

Effectively communicating IT metrics to board members can seem a lot like using an arcade claw-crane, i.e. a loser’s game.

The metrics often move too fast, or are buried too deeply - and are therefore too complex — for IT professionals to communicate the ideas behind them properly. To paraphrase Bryan Glick, contributing editor of Computer Weekly, the IT profession needs to “talk in the language of its [stakeholders]” warning that if it doesn’t, those stakeholders “will simply look elsewhere”.

Problems arise when IT professionals try to discuss the "risks" and "health" of their systems. These are alien concepts to their c-suite audiences; overly technical language gets in the way of their efforts to communicate the business case for the time and cost needed to run algorithms and models to predict future risks to IT systems.

Learning Opportunities

Roughly 59 percent of Fortune 500 companies experience 1.6 hours of IT downtime every week, costing them on average $56 per hour, per every employee. With at least 10,000 employees in these businesses, this equates to total losses of $46 million a year by the Fortune 500.

IT can also use data to monitor company metrics to determine what is going on in a business’ environs. This can help make sure that businesses are prepared for a sudden increase in customer attention.

When Beyoncé, for example, announced a new tour during the Super Bowl, her fans stormed her website to get their hands on coveted tickets. Monitoring metrics ensures that businesses remain online at crucial moments like this.

If they do not, they risk loss of reputation and revenue as customers are unable to access a company’s products.

Presenting Predictions to the Board

In a now infamous case of IT outage, Virgin Australia Airlines, formerly Virgin Blue Airlines, unexpectedly went offline in September 2010.

The subsequent negative press and other knock on effects cost Virgin Airline $20 million. Being able to predict and prevent disasters like this means that IT departments can save businesses from unnecessary pain.

Based on data provided by the predictive algorithms, IT managers can start building a strong track record in providing reliable predictions that businesses can use to pre-empt later problems. This is when communicating with C-suite executives in terms of costs is most useful.

Properly communicating the threats and concerns that IT outage can lead to can help persuade the c-suite that algorithms and models, as well as sophisticated metric reading tools, can prevent this sort of pain from crippling a business.

Tools that alert you after a problem has occurred, or can’t tell you exactly where it has happened, are no good at preparing businesses for future IT problems.

Talking in terms of business and cost are the only ways that IT personnel can get the upper echelons of business decision makers on side.

Title image "______" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by ellyn

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