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How to market IT to a sceptical audience

Ovum Pty Ltd

By Kevin Noonan, Chief Analyst, and Practice Leader for Public Sector, Ovum
Monday, 11 December, 2017


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Accomplishing change in IT requires taking people along on the journey… but that’s often easier said than done.

As digital government agendas continue to gather pace, the gulf between rhetoric and reality is beginning to create real concerns. Many CIOs have noted in interviews with Ovum that solid gains can go unappreciated, while shortcomings can become amplified. For a technology industry trained in methodologies and processes for getting the job done, internal marketing can often sit awkwardly on the list of management priorities.

Neglect internal marketing at your peril

In times of change, internal marketing inevitably becomes a crucial activity. It is easy to forget that driving change is all about people. People are analogue entities. They are not digital, and the laws of logic do not always apply. People think and they feel, they love and they hate, they get angry and they get frustrated.

People can draw on incredible reserves of creativity and ingenuity. They can drive successful outcomes even if these outcomes may logically appear to be impossible. But there is a downside. People can also draw on incredible reserves of passive resistance, and can scuttle even the most logical and well-argued initiatives. Successful internal marketing is all about concurrently dealing with the realities of these digital and analogue worlds.

There are four tough internal marketing realities that need to be addressed in a very pragmatic way.

1. Nobody cares how hard you work

Of course, successful project management is all about marshalling resources, and reporting on effort expended. This is a core skill for IT managers, but it counts for very little when marketing to the rest of the organisation. Outcomes matter. Successful outcomes are measured in the eyes of the recipient, not by the effort required to make it happen.

It is all about working smarter. Agile methodologies and common platforms are good news for the savvy manager, because they can each deliver solid outcomes while conserving effort.

But this is just the start. A focus on outcomes can lead to a very different approach to IT planning.

Here is a quick exercise. Take out your IT workplan for 2018 and sort each of the tasks based on just one criterion: “Who is going to thank you for undertaking this task?”. The tasks at the top of the list should, for example, be candidates for an internal award from the Secretary of the Department. Tasks at the bottom of the list might be greeted with the silence of one hand clapping!

The next questions are obvious:

  • Why should IT be undertaking any of the tasks at the bottom of the list?
  • Should these projects be marketed in a different way, or is the project a dud?

Surprisingly, some government agencies that tried this method found almost everything was at the bottom of the list. The underlying cause for their internal marketing problem was no longer a mystery!

2. Dealing with ‘mission improbable’

Most organisations still have some sort of mission and vision statement, and most of these make some reference to delighting their customers, or to delivering a superior level of service. These are excellent tools for aligning and focusing the efforts of internal IT staff, but can easily be met with cynicism or perhaps even derision when exposed to the rest of the organisation. Stretch goals are best used internally.

The big challenge is to find a clear message that resonates well from a client perspective, and then reinforce that message through clear actions. It might be about building a reliable and functional infrastructure, or it might be about enabling better productivity, or it might be about driving change. Getting the words exactly right is less important than having solid use cases to back up the message. It is a lot easier to link clear outcomes to an underlying message, even if that message is vaguely defined, than it is to have a wordy message, and then scratch around looking for justifications to support the message. Actions speak louder than words, and they hold a lot more credibility.

3. People have long memories

There is something about human psychology that causes people to clearly remember their first impressions. These memories can significantly skew the marketing of IT.

In some organisations, the challenge can become diabolical. Some appear to be hardwired to remember and celebrate past failures, even if they were overtaken by later successes. In a number of recent Ovum interviews, business managers have reported the poor performance of the internal IT function, based on early problems with the delivery of their personal laptop, even if the big strategic IT deliverables worked perfectly.

Armed with this knowledge, there is a lot that CIOs can do to better target their marketing of IT:

  • Case studies carry a lot of weight. If a project works well, it is a good idea to get an external organisation to write it up and have the case study published.
  • Personal accounts on social networks (both internal and external networks) carry much more weight than stories an organisation tells about itself.

4. Good customers drive good outcomes

While much has been written about the challenges of IT becoming a good service provider, very little attention is paid to creating good customers. Unlike commercial services, government CIOs have very little control over choosing their client mix, as this is typically closely linked to the business and policy requirements of each government agency.

However, within that mix, not all clients are equal. Some clients are also looking for good partners and are willing to tell everyone about their successes. Treat these clients like gold! When it comes time to hand around the praise, make sure IT is included.

Pictured: Kevin Noonan, Chief Analyst, and Practice Leader for Public Sector, Ovum.

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