by Meridith Levinson

How Do You Win Friends and Influence for IT?

Aug 08, 20053 mins
Consumer Electronics

Recently, I visited Simmons Bedding Company in Atlanta for an upcoming story. Here are a few fun things I learned about Simmons’ IT department.

** Every Friday morning, a couple of employees in the IT department make flapjacks for anyone in the company who’s hungry for a pancake. They call this informal event “Flapjack Fridays” and see it as a means for business users to get to know the IT department in a friendly, non-threatening way. Breakfast doesn’t last more than an hour and is usually over by 8:30 AM. The IT staff solicits donations to fund the flapjack flipping with a jar placed next to the griddle.

** The 50-person IT shop recently moved from the eighth floor to the seventh floor of the office building in which Simmons makes its home because it ran out of office space. Since IT left the eighth floor, many other eighth floor employees, including the vice president of innovation, Kurt Ling, bemoan their absence and miss the IT staff’s high energy.

** Kurt Ling thinks the IT department is the most customer-service focused department in the company. His opinion is a big deal because he didn’t have a very good experience with IT when he first joined the company some six years ago. He says it took months for IT to get him a computer. Once he had the computer, he had to wait for a printer, and when he got it, it wasn’t networked. Another time when he had mission-critical e-mails to send, he learned that he could not send them because he had exceeded some arbitrary limit on the amount of emails he could retain in his inbox that IT had established.

Simmons CIO, Wade Vann, and his direct reports understand that every interaction an IT worker has with a business user is an opportunity to market who the IT department is, what it does and the value it brings to the business. Vann’s reports in turn inculcate this understanding into their direct reports.

Vann worked in IT for 15 years before leaving IT and going into marketing (this was several years before he joined Simmons in October 2000.) His stint in marketing—where he was a business consumer of IT—made him realize how cumbersome and customer-unfriendly all of IT’s processes and procedures were. When he went back into IT three years later, he changed the way he and IT department serviced business users.

Simmons isn’t alone in its approach. Last year, CIO magazine published a story on internal marketing of IT, calling it the best kept secret for success. Examples from Harley Davidson, Smurfit-Stone, the State of Washington and others suggest that marketing IT’s achievements and capabilities can boost its credibility, create transparency and even help win approval of project budgets.

And you…. Do you need a stint in marketing to come up with great ideas to sell IT to the business side? Or have you already tried? Tell us what’s worked for you.