How Relevance Helps IT Talk Business

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We know the technology we develop and manage in IT is an ever more vital element of business success. Yet even as our business counterparts acknowledge their reliance on technology, IT often feels marginalized in business strategy and decision-making discussions.

The solution for this dilemma is to make IT more relevant to the business. That’s the premise behind a new book, Get in the Boat: A Journey to Relevance, written by Pat Bodin, a former Cisco colleague, and his co-author Robert Schaffner.

In writing the foreword to this book, I realized there is one fundamental reason that technologists aren’t always included in business decisions. When we come to the table, we often speak an almost completely different language from the other people involved in the discussion. Instead, we have developed our own jargon and defined our own processes in isolation.

For example, we use the word “virtualization” all the time, but there is no translation for that word in any other language on the planet. That’s one example of how our language is often meaningful only to technologists and no one outside of our discipline has a true understanding of it.

We also think the hard stuff we do is what we need to tell people about because these things take the most time and effort. The truth is, business leaders just need to know how we can help them get to where they want to go. We need to be asking them, “What are your goals and how can we help you achieve them?” Then, we need to be able to express how IT can help, but always in business-focused language.

All too often, we’re the product people, fascinated with a new technology only because it solves some technical problem within IT’s realm. We don’t spend as much energy on thinking and communicating about how the technology could solve a problem in the business realm. We need to learn how to explain technical processes in a practical way to people who just want to understand what it will mean to their work, their operations, their results.

Understanding and speaking the language of business is something we try to do every day in my group, Customer Strategy and Success. Whether we’re talking externally with Cisco customers or internally with product development and business operations teams, we know that we have to make the work and resources of Cisco IT both understandable and relevant. Just asking our peers and customers a simple question from the book— “What does a good day look like for you?”—starts everyone on a new way of thinking.

Do you think communicating relevance is an important aspect of the relationship between IT and the business? How can technologists better learn to convey the relevance of IT to their business counterparts? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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How Relevance Helps IT Talk Business


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