RESEARCH & RESOURCES

4 Reasons Why IT Must Market In-House to BI Users (Part 1 of 2)

The IT staff has to communicate its current and potential contributions to the whole organization. A proper marketing process will align IT services with actual business needs.

By Max T. Russell, Max and Max Communications

Businesses don’t have to tolerate those painful experiences with their IT departments any more. Options are increasing, and IT must seize the golden opportunity to win a spot in their users’ heart every day.

The principles of marketing are practical and well established. They can do amazing things for you. Marketing -- which we will define everything you do to get a person to the point of sale is what IT must use to sell itself every day as a business solutions provider, giving compassionate attention to all of their users’ IT needs.

A Texan businessman told me, “Everything I do is marketing.” His oversimplified idea of marketing means he attends to the needs of his customers, and it’s enough to keep them coming back in large numbers.

IT staff are frequently known as stubborn, self-centered idealists who don’t understand that the IT user is their customer and that the customer comes first. Yet even this long, negative history is no match for the IT department that wants to utilize the power of basic marketing principles to turn over a new leaf.

Part 1 of this two-part series will explain the great need for IT to think of users as customers and to learn how to market. Part 2, available here, explains several concrete ways to do both.

What’s Driving IT’s Need for Marketing

In my work as a direct-response marketer involved with communicating with enterprises of various sizes and in several industries -- especially where language and culture separate one group from another -- I see IT facing a crisis on four fronts: increased competition, poor communication, lack of teamwork, and a serious image problem.

Driver #1: Increased Competition

The introduction of consumer-centric self-service cloud applications, services, and utilities has finally awakened many IT departments to the fact that they have real competition.. That trend is occurring as IT also realizes another factor -- that business users may prefer partial solutions over fussing with onsite IT.

Recently I was involved with a marketing manager struggling with bad data and a business manager trying to make projections based on insufficient data. Both managers are avoiding their respective IT departments because their own inadequate and unauthorized workarounds feel better than the cold shoulder they get from IT directors who are more concerned with compliant users than with happy customers. IT professionals often fail to acknowledge that these very customers know more about the company’s business than IT does.

Aside from the competition that cloud alternatives pose, outsourced IT and staff reductions have thinned IT departments as business budgets adjust. The stress this places on the IT department should motivate it to see that the need to market its unique strengths and benefits is more necessary than ever.

Driver #2: Poor Communications

Most business users I’ve dealt with believe IT staff are poor communicators. I believe much of the problem is unintended. IT professionals can learn to communicate better if they first want to -- but communication is not the same as telling users about IT.

Communication breaks down because it’s not a two-way street. With no monitors built in to ensure understanding, you’re only talking at people, not with them. When you’re concentrating on technological systems instead of building solutions on the users’ terms, nothing you have to say will interest them. If IT is not willing to find a way to adapt the technology to the customer, there is no need for IT.

Communication all too often is done with no attention to the users’ need for facts and openness. When an IT group shut down all systems during the lunch hour in a large food manufacturing complex, hundreds of workers suddenly found their computers unavailable. They were flabbergasted by IT’s inability to keep them in the loop with an advance notice.

To the IT department’s credit, its motive was correct: other companies had been hit by Russian hackers. The food manufacturer’s IT team acted quickly and expertly to lock them out. However, in failing to communicate sympathy by warning of the shut-down and providing additional (non-technical) information, IT worsened its relationship with hundreds of users.

Driver #3: Lack of Teamwork

Recently, I spoke with a hospital accountant who was frustrated working with IT, whose energies seemed to be spent enforcing technological protocols instead of learning the hospital’s business. The accountant’s opinion was that the CEO would be better off disbanding the department and starting over.

IT seemed to keep the upper hand by convincing the CEO that IT protocols were the only way to ensure that business was done right. Compliance with IT policy overrode concern about working with users to find the right solution. Part of the problem was that IT simply didn’t understand the health care business. Business users could see the problem; IT didn’t. They weren’t working as a team.

Driver #4: Image Problems

IT isn’t just seen as insensitive to business users’ needs. It also suffers from an image of being full of incompetent geeks who take forever to get anything done.

The incompetent geek image is fatal. An incompetent geek becomes invisible by being entirely nonessential, unable to make sure important business concerns are addressed.

For example, why were the engineers at a concrete company unable to use their portable devices in their work spaces? User management says it’s because there’s no Wi-Fi in that part of the plant -- but why is there no Wi-Fi in a relatively new building?

IT says it’s because user management didn’t plan for it, but that’s a symptom that IT didn’t (and doesn’t proactively) contribute to solving business problems. IT didn’t contribute its expertise by foreseeing the problem and advising users about the need for a technologically flexible building design. IT cannot wait for problems to arise before they are consulted. IT must build its reputation as an experienced team member and actively contribute its expertise.

IT must also counter the impression that its staff is too slow to solve business problems. Users, concerned that it takes IT “forever” to install a new system or tweak a report, can put enough fire under their own managers to find a way to get what they need done somehow.

Summary

In this article, we’ve examined four problems affecting IT’s very survival. Technologists must explain and demonstrate their value to the enterprise by clarifying the unique challenges of being the caretakers of information in a fast-changing environment. The first step is to develop a marketing initiative.

Part 2 of this series explains how the IT department can promote itself as a savvy, friendly, available servant to the organization, promoting harmony (the people part) and productivity (the business part).You won’t need a magnetic personality to effectively market your way into the users’ hearts. They will give you their hearts when they know you have their backs.

Max T. Russell is the owner of Max and Max Communications. He is a direct-response marketer who works behind the scenes to provide communications to individuals and businesses in a variety of industries. He and his identical twin, Max S., have been discussing and dissecting the challenges of IT in the workplace for the past 18 years. You can reach him at mtrex@earthlink.net.

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