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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When IT leaders were asked about the barriers that stood in the way of effective communication, their answers could be broadly organized into four categories: 1) a lack of resources; 2) a lack of knowledge; 3) a lack of talent; and 4) a lack of historical credibility.

Half of IT leaders believe that a lack of communication talent holds their teams back. This suggests that in many cases IT leaders view communication talent as something inherent, as opposed to a skill set to be developed. This belief can quickly turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy unless IT leaders take action.

And in spite of an upward trend in terms of time investment, half of IT leaders (48 percent) still think they aren’t spending enough time on communication. Significantly, two out of five (41 percent) believe that their business leadership doesn’t view IT communication in general as especially important — an absolutely critical factor to consider when thinking about how IT leaders view their non-IT peers and the potential for collaboration (see Figure 8).

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Figure 8: Barriers to Effective IT Communication Include Talent, Time. (Click for a larger image.)


Before looking for solutions to overcome or eliminate the barriers noted above, IT leaders must first realize there are no quick fixes. They must be ready to roll up their sleeves and embrace ambiguity. Most importantly, they must keep in mind a highly pragmatic approach that anticipates business change.

That said, there are common techniques that have proven successful over time. Ninety percent of IT leaders report success with addressing heads of business functions (see Figure 9). Success rates drop precipitously from there, with 65 percent of IT leaders finding some measure of success in addressing the board of directors on a regular basis — and 55 percent in appointing IT liaisons to business units.

For the second year in a row, using public social media trails the pack of reported communication techniques, with only 18 percent of IT leaders finding any measure of success.

Many of the communication techniques simply have not yet entered wide circulation. For example, 70 percent of IT leaders have not hired a communication director dedicated to IT. And 61 percent have not trained a corporate communications person to better understand IT’s needs, representing the same percentage as in 2014. As the case studies reveal, however, there is much potential value in testing the untried and exploring this strategic path.

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Figure 9: Face-to-face Interactions Lead the List of Successful Communication Techniques. (Click for a larger image.)

Conclusion: The crisis in IT is surmountable, with the right mindset

The crisis in IT communication is a reflection of how quickly things have changed in IT departments worldwide. A mere thirty years ago, the term ‘CIO’ was not in general circulation, and IT departments were relegated to handling back-office implementations.[3] In the relatively brief span of three decades, CIOs and other IT leaders have been tasked with co-developing front-office, customer-facing innovations that drive the bottom line — all while marketing IT’s brand internally. Marketers within the enterprise have not had to learn code, but coding IT leaders have had to learn marketing, and fast.

It is no surprise that 91 percent of CIOs contend that the CIO role is becoming ‘more challenging,’ and 85 percent claim that the role is becoming ‘more important to the business.’[4] The price of technological progress is ambiguity and disruption, and IT leaders of any stripe can scarce afford to tread water.

The tragedy of the crisis in IT communication is that IT leaders realize acutely that it exists — but, by their own admission, they have been generally ineffective at driving new conversations with their non-IT peers. It is sadly ironic that the IT professionals tasked with implementing far-reaching, innovative technologies have, to a large degree, proven themselves to be so reactive within the currents of business change.

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