Thursday, September 3, 2015

Engaging IT conversation with professional communication

Many CIOs arrive at their role after having spent years in an IT organization. So it is perhaps not uncommon for CIOs to have difficulty in communicating technology concepts to those outside of IT. But arguably, we need to be more effective in this area, because those outside of IT are our customers. To support our clients, we need to be better communicators.

An increasing trend is for CIOs to hire a professional communicator to help bridge the gap between the technical details of IT issues in a way that others will understand. As Beth Stackpole writes in "How CIOs can create the voice of IT" in a CIO Magazine article, adding a professional communicator vastly improves perceptions of customer service. From the article:
Not only does a dedicated communications person help change the nature of IT communications, they are also instrumental in changing the tenor of how information is delivered and ultimately received. For example, instead of blanketing users with IT-related emails, Cooley [Patrick Cooley, senior manager, IT marketing and communications, EMC] says he's worked hard to target users and refine messaging to fit with specific audiences. "People are constantly being bombarded with too much email that's too intrusive and too jargony," Cooley says. "I can help look for ways to better leverage social media and target people with the best [communications] vehicle."
Effective communication is an important skill in leadership, moreso in IT. In rhetoric, "code words" are terms and phrases that carry specific meaning to one group, but are confusing or opaque to outsiders. In IT, we tend to pepper our communication with code words. One typical example is this email we received about a speed boost from a major local residential Internet provider: (excerpt)
Customers can take advantage of this speed increase beginning Thursday morning by ‘power-cycling’ their cable modem with the reset button on the device, or by unplugging the modem power cord from the electrical outlet, waiting a few seconds and then plugging it back into the outlet.
That is a long sentence, but what's actually being said here? This statement has a lot of specificity, and uses some technical jargon that is familiar to many of us in IT but may opaque to others: "power-cycling" is just turning the device off then on again.

This statement can be made much clearer by writing instead:
You can get the speed boost simply by turning off your cable modem, waiting a few moments, then turning it on again.
How you communicate with your customers is different from how you communicate with your peers in IT. Consider for yourself how to simplify your language and make things clearer to the people you support.
photo: Chris

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