Communication between IT and non-IT workers in a state of crisis

Results from the CIO Executive Council’s ‘Power of Effective IT Communication’ benchmark survey indicate that IT teams lack the talent to communicate. This results in a state of crisis between IT and non-IT employees, which could prove disastrous in this era of unparalleled digital disruption.

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Credit: Thinkstock

Communication between IT and non-IT employees is in a state of crisis — across job titles, across verticals, across regions. Four out of five IT leaders claim that building trust and credibility is highly important. However, only four out of one hundred believe that they are highly effective in communicating with their non-IT colleagues.

Half of IT leaders believe that this disparity is due, in part, to a lack of communication talent on the IT team. And this deficiency could not reveal itself at a more inopportune time: an era of unparalleled digital disruption, hallmarked by globalization and extreme market volatility. By 2020, 75 percent of the Fortune 500 will be comprised of names we have not heard of yet, according to Patrick Forth, Senior Partner and Managing Director at The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) [1]. The companies that thrive will be the following:

  1. Customer-focused
  2. Agile and responsive to market conditions
  3. Efficient and innovative technology champions

Effective communication will continue to be the common thread, the business-enabling quality that helps guarantee all of the others.

The stakes could not be higher in a digitally disrupted world. The research in this second-annual report is based on the 2015 Power of Effective IT Communication Survey conducted by the CIO Executive Council.   Drawing upon responses from 205 global IT leaders, the report provides an in-depth, data-driven look at the state of IT communication today — with an emphasis on specific goals, actions, and results across industries.  By benchmarking themselves, IT leaders will be empowered as they take action.

If an IT project stalls, and no one’s listening, does it make a sound?

There is no ideal end state when it comes to IT communication. There is no perfection in the art. Like successful financial investing, there are only iterative returns with the potential for appreciation over time.

What is abundantly clear, however, is that the absence of effective communication between IT and non-IT employees leads to abject business outcomes, a lack of trust, and a corroded vision. A CEC survey revealed, for example, that 45 percent of IT leaders are at least somewhat dissatisfied with their C-suite’s leadership performance when it comes to digital business strategy and digitally enabled innovation and transformation.[2] The disparity between IT leaders’ aspirations to be more strategic and their actual performance is rooted in communication. And this lack of communication skills represents a vicious cycle, impacting acquisition and retention of top IT talent in an era in which many prospective employees act as free agents.

Just 3 percent of IT leaders in this latest survey view themselves as business game changers — drivers of the enterprise’s competitive future (see Figure 1). This compares with an 8 percent total in the CEC’s 2014 study. Eleven percent consider themselves to be business peers, or IT leaders who help develop business strategy, which also marks a decline from last year’s results. The majority of the executives polled (63 percent) fall in the competent middle tier of IT partners and service providers, who are generally trusted as collaborators or delivery agents.

Finally, one out of four (23 percent) of IT leaders self-identify as being part of cost centers, leaving them and their colleagues at risk of exclusion from business decisions involving IT.

figure 1

Figure 1: One-quarter of IT shops are cost centers; two-thirds are collaborators. (Click for a larger image.)


The aspirations of IT leaders are high. Most want to overcome the gaps. Foremost on their minds is building trust and credibility; four out of five (80 percent) IT leaders register this as having the highest possible importance (see Figure 2). Two-thirds (67 percent) of those surveyed place the same critical value on making sure that IT understands business needs. Roughly the same percentage (66 percent) view IT-business partnering and collaboration as a topline goal.

figure 2

Figure 2:Trust, clarity and collaboration are top priorities. (Click for a larger image.)


IT leaders are also putting in the time to build trust and improve IT’s messaging and branding. One in ten (11 percent) spend the equivalent of at least three full eight-hour workdays per month on dedicated communication activities, both inside and outside of the organization (see Figure 3). Two out of five (41 percent) spend the equivalent of at least one workday.

figure 3

Figure 3: Two out of five IT leaders spend at least a business day on communication. (Click for a larger image.)


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