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Getting the CIO Onboard With Your Communication Strategy

Without the CIO and IT on your side, your internal communication strategy might be heading straight for the storm.

There’s nothing worse than having an internal communication strategy approved, choosing a new tool to implement, and then run into IT manager who is standing in the way with crossed arms. Over the past few decades, I have worked as a technologist who has implemented many communications systems and designed an award-winning communications platform. In this article I share some key strategies for getting IT and your CIO onside. For the purpose of this post, I’m going to assume that your organization already understands the value of a well-executed internal communication strategy. 

The best plans can be quickly derailed by an uncooperative IT department, or worse yet, one that wants to cooperate but doesn’t understand what you are trying to accomplish. It’s no secret that IT and Internal Comms speak different languages and have different drivers.

The following probably sounds familiar. Not that long ago, I met with a client who had a solid, well-thought-out communication strategy however their IT department was against getting a new a mobile app for internal communications. They agreed that they had a highly mobile and remote workforce, but IT proposed using Microsoft Kaizala – a group chat application included with their Microsoft subscription – IT did not understand what Internal Comms was really after. Kaizala is great for what it does, but corporate communications isn’t a chat. Using it would have undermined the entire strategy. Without IT having an “I get it now” moment, the initiative was stuck. The situation could have been avoided by laying the groundwork for understanding.

Here are the top three things you need to do:

1. Understand the CIO’s Strategy

Schedule a one on one session with your CIO to understand, in detail, their strategy, technology stack, and priorities for the coming months. This will help you understand how IT is viewing the road ahead, what technologies may or may not be in alignment, and give you some of the critical language to communicate more effectively. This meeting should focus on:

  • Maturity: How mature is the IT function in your organization? From your point of view, maturity does not matter. You simply need to understand where your organization sits in the spectrum. This will help you make decisions down the road. Mature organizations will have a well laid out plan and will have a history of consistent execution. They will have a review and evaluation process that you may need to align with if you want to bring in new tools. Immature organizations may need more consultation of different parties, over a formal review process, and may require more vendor support and quick-and-simple configuration over enterprise deployments. 
  •  Build vs. Buy: You need to understand if your organization prefers to build in-house (or through an outsourcing partner) or prefers to buy COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) products. When deciding to pursue third-party communication products organizations with system integration capabilities will tend to gravitate towards products with extensive APIs (Application Programmer Interfaces, i.e. programming connectors). These can then be leveraged and used by their internal development teams.
  •  Cloud Strategy: Is your organization open to cloud solutions? Are there any regulatory constraints that you need to be aware of? Is there a preferred platform – Microsoft, Google, Amazon? This will narrow down your technology choices and make sure you align with your CIO strategy.

Understanding IT priorities is crucial – is there capacity for IT to take on more projects? If so, when? If there isn’t – does IT work with an outsourcing partner that can provide the additional capacity you might need for your plans? If not, would it be best for IT if you only considered SAAS (Software as a Service, i.e. an online subscription type of service) vendors? 

Your communication strategy will inevitably have a technology component. The sooner you understand the constraints and priorities of your CIO, the easier it will be for you to align your strategy with your corporate reality. 

2. Communicate Your Strategy and the Gaps

It’s important that the CIO and IT understand not only where you’re going, but also the value and effectiveness of what’s in place today. By understanding their strategy, and them understanding yours, it can potentially result in better solutions than you originally had in mind, and we’ve seen that. Sometimes it’s a matter of excellent timing that allows you to accelerate what you were hoping to deliver, and sometimes to allows IT additional cost savings that can cover some, if not all, of your initiative.

Some CIOs and IT leaders may not have a clear understanding of what’s happening with the wealth of tools and channels that they think are at Internal Comms’ disposal. Experience has taught the IT side that all because some area of the business wants something new, doesn’t mean it will solve the problems of old. Therefore, it’s critical to help them understand what channels are being used, how effective and efficient those channels and the tools are, and where the gaps are that you’re addressing with the new strategy.

You know that using one channel to communicate does not work for your entire audience, or that the channels in play may be missing a key type of person at the organization. Maybe it’s the factory floor worker or the salesperson on the go, that’s being left out. Perhaps there’s a group with high attrition whose consistent complaint is ‘I don’t feel connected to the organization.’ Perhaps that is costing the organization in recruiting and lost productivity. Having numbers available to you to support your arguments is very useful because it helps make the argument for you. 

The importance of making sure you have proper coverage between channels and your people is key, especially for companies with a multi-generational workforce. Some employees prefer email, others mobile apps, the Intranet or chat-based collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams or Slack. IT may not fully understand who is left out, or what isn’t effective and why. You need to paint the big picture.

In communicating all of this, the CIO may see opportunities to retire existing, potentially costly, systems that they thought were helping and thereby have the funds to support accelerating your plans.

3. Establish Ownership and Support

This is a very important area to discuss upfront. IT is responsible for application support and your CIO will be rightfully concerned about how to handle new communication platforms and products. Even if the new tooling you want is an online service and therefore seem to be “of no concern to IT”, it is. Corporate usage and corporate data, understanding what needs are being met with what, are key areas of the CIO’s responsibility. 

Discuss with your CIO the technology stack (all Microsoft? all Google? Is there SalesForce?) that your organization has endorsed and the capability/capacity to support new communication products in that stack. It can be unnecessarily challenging to have picked a tool that would require a whole new skillset for IT in order to support. Understanding the tech stack will narrow down your choices, but it will bring IT to the table as a partner and with IT there, you may find that they are willing to make an exception because it is the right call.

Lastly, it’s important to communicate what your expectations of IT will be regarding anything new that’s being proposed as well as what their expectations are – from level of support, handling upgrades, dealing with user login issues, and the like.

Is this worth it?

Yes. Years ago, IT was fighting for the business as a whole to listen to them. It wasn’t uncommon for different business units or divisions to have completely different systems, sometimes having their own vendors of preference. The amount of inefficiency and overlap was painful, but nothing was more painful than IT then being told they had to support something they had no say in getting.

The CIO and IT understand that technology isn’t in place for technology’s sake, it’s in place to serve the good of the business, and that includes internal communication. Telling IT what you’re thinking and planning could give more weight to their plans, or support them switching up their priorities. Aligning upfront and discussing communication in a way your CIO understands will save you time, money, and headaches. Good luck!