Communication is key to showing IT's financial value

Communicating in one way of demonstrating to directors that IT is adding value to the business, says Brendan Murphy

Only 25% of IT directors believe that measuring IT investment is an important part of their job, according to a recent Computer Weekly survey. Yet communication is one easy way to prove IT's worth. 

There are other options too, as well as showing return on investment, as Brendan Murphy explains.

One of the easiest ways to start to raise the profile of the IT function, and therefore, its worth, is to focus a bit more on the 'softer' aspects of the job. Here, it is important that directors are made aware of the IT function as something other than a band of committed techies.

The 'hard' task of process is undoubtedly the number one priority of any IT department but it's still worth not neglecting softer tasks.

Use soft aspects to your advantage

The following ideas may help to kick-start your thinking:

  • Review your internal communications to the organisation. Maybe consider issuing a regular newsletter by email. This needs to be very top level focusing on the big successes that the department has been involved in.
  • Ensure that your services are completely aligned with business objectives and, more specifically, with the short term objectives of functional areas. Ensure that your IT strategy is aligned to the business plan if one exists.
  • Be in control of all aspects of IT. Recent research shows that between 10 and 20% of IT spend in an organisation is unknown to the head of IT. Make sure you control all spend and demonstrate that you get best value for every £1 spent.
  • Ensure that your staff are aware of the senior managers in the organization and that they respond quickly to any requests from this group.
  • Make sure you get a spot at the directors' meeting, even if it's only ten minutes, to update on projects and issues. Prepare well for these sessions showing real business understanding.

Regular communication is essential

Regular communication can be at a project level through regular meetings and briefing sessions or on a wider basis as described above. Clearly communicated objectives, and timescales are essential to proving the worth of IT within and organisation.

IT as 'free' business consultants

The IT function is core to all areas of the business and can therefore be considered to have the most comprehensive view across disparate functional areas.

This makes IT staff ideal to identify ways in which services can be better provided and where processes can be streamlined or re-engineered. Sell this expertise whenever you can and at the highest level.

Dealing with directors

Directors are busy people - whether working in the private sector or in the public not-for-profit sector, directors have a duty to deliver.

In the private context this generally means delivering greater profits, increasing turnover and providing a better return to shareholders.

In the not-for-profit sector this is more likely to mean delivering better more efficient services to an often wide group of stakeholders.

No matter what your business is, the likelihood is that your directors will be looking for lower costs, efficiencies and a speedy return on investment on moneys spent on IT.

Make sure that your systems are well evaluated and monitored and that you can clearly show savings. These savings might be in time to respond to customers, or a reduction in paperwork, in the saving of staff costs, in  number of spam messages perhaps. Always have a sound bite up your sleeve!

Knowing your bosses

Proving the worth of IT to directors can often be dependent on the type of directors you are dealing with.

Where you have an innovate directorate that really buys into IT as a force for good you will have an easier time when requesting funding for new projects and the requirements for formality can be reduced in  places.

Where the directorate sees IT as a necessary evil you will be more likely to join the 'bun fight' for money and require to use all the all important harder skills of identifying and evaluating risk in detail, creating return on investment models and ensuring everything is run in a formal and methodical manner.

Show that you are winners

Finally, nothing pleases a director more than being able to stand up amongst his colleagues and espouse success.

Make sure that you apply for any industry awards that come up and that you put time into the application process to give yourself the best chance of winning - directors like winners.

Brendan Murphy, head of ICT and marketing at Glasgow City Council, Direct and Care Services, wrote this article in June 2006.