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The power of effective communication

The power of effective communication

CIOs discuss how they build trust with the business

Three CIOs share how they are working to build trust and credibility with non-IT peers and executives.

Tim Thurman, CIO, Australian Securities Exchange

Effective and efficient communication is the cornerstone which builds trust within an organisation and enables IT to deliver business solutions on time and on budget. This is something I truly believe and have aspired to over my 28-year career.

I take it back to my roots. In my early days at IBM Global Services, I was a software engineer geek, building and deploying software for financial markets. One day I was asked by management to present a technical concept to a new client with non-technical executives. I was instantly terrified, but to my surprise we won the deal. That experience taught me a few things: Understand your audience, communicate in a way they understand, ensure they trust what you say is true.

I gained a deep appreciation for and ability to relay technical ideas or production problems at a detailed technical level and when required, to lift it up to the c-level so it was understood by the broader audience. I understand my audience before I present, then tailor my thoughts towards their way of thinking and understanding of technology, instilling a level of confidence that is critical. I also drive this behaviour into my management team. For me, this is technology 101 at the management level.

At the board level, it is extremely important they feel comfortable with the technical side of the business and more so the risks around what we do. This is both internal and, very importantly, from a regulatory and client impact point of view. Transparency, both good and bad, is a good thing.

During the concept phase of our Technology Transformation Strategy, I spent a great deal of time with our board members, explaining the ‘why’ and ‘how’, detailing the risk of moving forward and also the risk of status quo. It wasn’t easy but spending the time and having the right answers helped. I anticipated their questions and never said “let me get back to you”.

I am also lucky to have a CEO who is supportive of our technology journey – to the point he now intimately understands the ‘why’ and ‘how’. Socialising our technology vision early in the concept phase helped a great deal in getting support and board approval. It has been just as important communicating our intentions to our external clients.

It all comes down to effective and efficient communication. Developing these skills is a never-ending process.

Barry Wiech, CIO, Parmalat Australia

In order to be successful in today’s business environment, where technology plays such a large role, you must establish trust. Communication is the foundation on which trust is built.

Consistent and clear customer-focused communication across our team and to our business partners builds confidence and therefore establishes trust.

Also key to building trust is consistency; consistency in delivering on promised project outcomes, problem resolution and providing greater customer focus regardless if it is internal or external customers.

If we wish to break down the traditional cost centre bias as IT departments, trust is critical. Without it, the ability for IT departments to influence decisions and garner support for key initiatives is difficult to achieve. Trust also ensures you expend less time on the defensive when issues arise and more time providing real solutions and benefits.

It is our responsibility as CIOs to lift discussions on technology to strategic and customer outcome-focused ones. IT teams need to change their everyday language both inside the IT department and when engaging with business leaders or business functions.

The best way of doing this is to challenge the IT team to constantly answer one question: “How will this benefit our customers?” Once this is understood, we can be confident we are moving in the right direction. If this cannot be easily answered, we must question why we need to spend time on that initiative.

This language change also helps provide transparency to business leaders, executives and the board, as we are now communicating in a way they understand and can rationalise against investments being made by the IT department. We no longer communicate projects using technical or infrastructure, we communicate the project in terms of customer outcomes/benefits that align with current business strategy.

Underlying benefits of projects also need to translate into understandable customer-focused value and the financial language everyone can relate to.

Over the past two years, we have implemented Yammer at Parmalat to provide real-time communications across teams and functional areas. Yammer has proven to be an invaluable tool to break down communication barriers and allow access to knowledge individuals that would otherwise be difficult to access, or that staff didn’t even know exist. I encourage my team to post updates on things we are working on or items around technology that would be of interest to our workforce. Equally, my team benefits by understanding what is happening around the business.

Mark Sheppard, CIO, GE Australia

The IT department is one of the most critical functions in the business. Without it, the business can’t operate and advance. Here are three reasons why.

First, as digitisation continues to collapse time and distance, workplaces will become increasingly virtual and mobile. Second, software, data and analytics have emerged as a way to gain business insights for competitive advantage. Third, operations and IT more broadly have converged as data and systems have become not just intertwined but essential to the functioning of all areas.

The IT department underpins the success of all these things, and managed well, can be the difference that lifts the business above competitors. There is no better way to build trust and credibility than to demonstrate that value.

It’s important to communicate this at the boardroom table, so that leaders in the business promote the support and utilisation of technology. Support at the highest level will go a long way to building credibility, ensuring continued investment and driving participation.

At GE, technology underpins all that we do. It informs the way we work, helping to enable our agile and collaborative culture in both virtual and physical spaces. It also helps to inform our strategy, as we gather data to gain insights about how we are performing and where we can improve.

Our IT department works hard to understand the individual needs and goals of our various business units, and recommends technology to help achieve those goals. This could include the creation of an app, data analysis on business systems, or a new piece of software. They also proactively educate the business about new technology through webcasts, alerts and learning sessions.

Today more than ever, IT has the opportunity to be one of the most valuable functions in the business. The key is to help the business achieve its goals and gain competitive advantage, and communicate value at the highest level.

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