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Communication is the Key

By Nathan Hillery, National CIO, IPG

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Nathan Hillery, National CIO, IPG

Have you ever had your System Admin slave away for 48 hours over a weekend, configuring your VLAN infrastructure or upgrading the firmware on the your SAN, only to come in Monday morning blurry eyed to a user complaining about their spell check not working screaming “What does IT even do?” 

This is normally followed by a less than courteous response from your overly tired System Admin, a complaint from the staff member and bingo … you’re in yet another meeting to discuss the attitude of your IT team and why they are not helpful to the business. You get frustrated and respond with “You don’t understand what we even do” … now you have a division between your IT team and management and you don’t understand how this happened as you have just completed a major project to help improve their systems.

“The internet and its endless source of “easy to Google” information have changed the approach of many CFOs and CEOs”

This is an all too common a situation that I have seen, and I’m willing to admit have fallen victim to. In this ever changing industry, communication is a key to successful relationships with management. The internet and its endless source of “easy to Google” information have changed the approach of many CFOs and CEOs. They are no longer happy to sit back in there office and just trust whatever their CIO says. But as always, a little bit of knowledge can be dangerous, and all too often, their research for a reliable faster network doesn’t explain the endless hours behind the scenes and late nights required to fulfil the sales pitch of the product they have researched.

A simple little test you can do yourself.

Step 1. Choose a server to upgrade the firmware on. Go through the process you normally would … test environment, change controls, documentation, emails to notify business of server down time, come in late at night, run the upgrade, test, document and you’re done.  Document all of these steps and the time it took. I’m guessing a several hours both during the day, and late at night.

Step 2. Now look at something aesthetic, like changing the desktop background or the screen saver. Make a simple change to your group policy and wait for everyone to reboot overnight to get their new funky/funny wallpaper. Document how long this took, I’m guessing about 30 minutes during your normal day.

Step 3. Now collate every comment or feedback you get from both jobs … I’ll put a week’s pay on the fact you won’t get a single comment about the firmware upgrade, but you will more than likely get a little buzz about the new screensaver.

So why should you bother doing all the hard work and not just change the screensaver every week?

IT is like oxygen … it’s taken for granted that it’s always there …
It’s only when it’s not there or the quality deteriorates that everyone notices it.

This is a trap that a lot of CIOs fall into as they get disheartened by the lack of acknowledgement for all the behind the scenes work that gets done. This is where communication becomes key. Communication and foresight can really help you turn things around. Many CEOs and CFOs only hear from you when you want something and want to spend their money. You need to break this mindset, and one of the best ways is to regularly hold meetings/demonstrations with your management board to inform them of what projects IT are undertaking.

Look to host at least two board meetings per year purely based around educating and informing the board members on what we have, why we have it, and what are we looking to do. These meetings don’t always need to be your boring old PowerPoint presentation either. Take them to your datacentre or server room to give them a “hands on” experience. Un-patch a non-critical server showing them the on screen warnings and the email notification that hits your phone within seconds telling you the server is offline. If you’re feeling really brave, you could hot plug a drive from your SAN to simulate a drive failure alert.

But the real key with these demonstrations is to plan ahead. If you’re due to renew your monitoring software in Q3, make sure you do your offline server demonstration in Q1 so you can call on their experience in the budget review. This helps them associate a real world scenario they have experienced, to the dollars they are spending and hence helps getting your budget over the line.

It’s your job as a CIO to plan ahead and plant the seeds for communication to develop and grow. Whether it’s a new screensaver or upgrading your SAN firmware, let people know before, during and after the fact. Make sure you educate them as to why it’s being done and how it benefits them in the long term and you should find a much better harmony with your management teams.

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