I have spoken a lot about the IT and the business users from various perspectives: from the shifting role of the IT from technical to business side, from resentment, from the importance of the human element to the point of leaving IT for the end business. In almost all articles, I tried to take a paragraph to emphasize the importance of communication. In this article, I will take one step forward and discuss how to help the non-IT people understand what you are talking about.
The IT pros today face different challenges. With the consumerization of IT, the vendors skip IT more and more and reach the end users. From a purely sales perspective, they can be given credit: why spend time trying to convince people who bring infrastructure challenges to the table where you can just convince end users who want simple solutions? The users are already got used to finding, downloading and installing an app that does what they need.
This is the point where IT has to step in and tell the users what is going under the hood.
First, try to understand what the users want to achieve at the end. We, IT people, are used to working with exact technical terms and definitions. On the other side, the end users have ambiguous definitions (yes, I can say that easily – I switched from Information Technologies to Human Resources). We, the IT people have to be patient and try to break down the ambiguous definitions into smaller pieces and then clarify them. Suppose that our marketing team is running a campaign and say that they want to view all messages in one place. That is a very complex definition for us. Once we take a step to understand what it is, we find that the campaign is running with SMS, MMS and e-mail. One step further, the marketing people say that they want to measure the effectiveness of the campaign in Outlook. As an IT pro, we tell them that although we can integrate Outlook with SMS, it is not a tool that is designed to handle and measure bulk messages. We tell them that pushing Outlook to the edge to handle such tasks will have negative effects on both the server and client size and we may fall out of support for such use. We can take even one step further and analyze web based solutions and inform them back. This approach is way better than “you cannot do that in Outlook” or “Exchange doesn’t do this” replies.
In this example, we showed the marketing people many more things. We showed that we are trying to help them achieve their end goal, in a supportive manner, without making them threatened in any way. We showed them that we know what the tools we have can and cannot do. We showed them that we have seen the opportunity to make them understand our reasons. And finally we showed them that they can visit us whenever they feel like; and if we do not know the answer or we do not have the necessary tools, we will do our best to solve their problems. Other than the strong IT – business relations, this also helps to avoid shadow IT.
When talking with the end users (for me, anyone) we have to stay away from technobabble and acronyms. This way of communication not only keeps us away from intimidating the other side of the conversation, but also it shows that we know exactly what you are talking about. Speaking in a clear, understandable way builds credibility. We have to remember the famous quote from Albert Einstein: if we can’t explain it to a six year old, we don’t understand it ourselves. Once we achieve this, we will try to take one step further and understand the business cases and jargon. For example, if we are talking with the marketing people about the email campaign, we will try to talk about measuring effectiveness by buyer demographics.
When giving information, we have to make sure that we give it in small bits and bytes rather than in megabytes. Once we see that the information is received and digested, we present a little more, and then some more. During the conversation, watching the simple body language will help us a lot: arms crossed? body turned away? eyes looking blurry? If we see such signs, we have to reassess how we are conveying the information, because the other side is simply not receiving it.
These approaches to understanding the business and communicating with the end users will have many positive results. The most important one is that the business side will embrace IT. It will be in such a position that can solve business problems way better than the users imagined, it will demonstrate its analytical thinking methods and its ability to combine it with clear communications. The ultimate end result is the company saving a lot of time and money.