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A communicator’s guide to getting along with IT

A communicator’s guide to getting along with IT

Suspension bridgeA client recently asked me if all internal comms (IC) teams have a difficult relationship with IT. Not all do, but it is surprisingly common. I’ve worked in both functions and can see how there can be innate tensions that coalesce around common ground, such as intranets.

My impression of what Corporate IT functions typically want (and I’m stereotyping here) is to:

  1. Protect the systems. IT is often in the ‘dissatisfier’ category – nobody notices until things go wrong, and then everyone gives IT a hard time. So making sure email, networks, and enterprise platforms don’t fail is a priority. Unfortunately this can lead to resistance to change, as every change carries risk.
  2. Reduce costs. IT is often seen as overhead, rather than strategic (as Nicholas Carr famously argued in IT Doesn’t Matter). This means companies often try to squeeze tremendous value out of IT departments that also have the threat of further outsourcing hanging over them. Both 1 & 2 also drive a desire to standardise around a particular vendor stack, such as Microsoft and IBM, in the hope that it simplifies integration.
  3. Try new stuff. Many people get into tech because they find it intrinsically interesting and they like the way it constantly evolves.  So they’re looking for opportunities to try something new, but not everything IC wants will fit that category. I suspect this is why sometimes it feels like IT simultaneously tells IC they have no capacity to take on requests for something new, yet also seem to have the resources to launch things that nobody seems to have ever asked for.

There’s probably something of a personality bias in the two functions too – Communicators that come from a PR or journalist background often thrive on a sense of urgency, having deadlines and immediacy to what they do. IT pros are often more analytical, wanting time to explore the detail and put a plan in place.

As an exercise, I sometimes get IC to write down what it is they do that makes IT’s life harder. I get the IT team to answer the opposite about how they make IC’s life harder. Often there’s a common theme about visibility of planning:

  • IC want technology implemented at what feels like short notice to IT. In the worst cases, when frustrated, they try to bypass standards and get new capabilities from a third party.
  • IT are deeply involved in technology road maps, but sometimes leave the employee communication planning until late in the day because they have less of a sense of what is required to do it properly.

This can result in the butting of heads, with IC saying “We can’t wait six months to put a social network in place, we need it in a month” and IT saying “You keep going on about social networks, but we never get clear requirements off you”. If left unchecked, this can steadily create resentment between the teams.

In reality, both functions are often striving to be seen more as strategic partners. There’s scope to help each other, with IT providing scalable planning and Comms often being closer to leadership thinking. The best way to build bridges is to have the Intranet Governance in place that ensures strategic and operational governance teams have cross-functional representation, and meet often enough to give visibility of their plans.

Sam Marshall

I'm the director of ClearBox Consulting, advising on intranet and digital workplace strategy, SharePoint and online collaboration. I've specialised in intranets and knowledge Management for over 19 years, working with organisations such as Unilever, Astra Zeneca, Akzo Nobel, Sony, Rio Tinto and Diageo. I was responsible for Unilever’s Global Portal Implementation, overseeing the roll-out of over 700 online communities to 90,000 people and consolidating several thousand intranets into a single system.

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