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How CIOs can create the voice of IT

Beth Stackpole | July 14, 2015
Even the most business astute CIO could use a little help on the communications front. That's why more CIOs are hiring dedicated IT communications specialists to help build and nurture the IT brand.

"As I start building out the elastic nature of IT, I need someone to help communicate and change the conversation I have with business and put things in business-enablement terms--not technical terms," Bhagat explains. "We can't say, `we built an AWS capability, use ours,' we have to communicate to the business that we can provide a better connection in a secure way. I could build the best system out there, but if I'm unable to communicate the value to the business, it doesn't matter what I bring to the table -- they'll go elsewhere."

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 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."

Applied Materials CIO Jay Kerley says he's fully committed to staffing a dedicated IT communications specialist because it's not always easy for his staff -- or himself, for that matter -- to communicate complex topics effectively to the business, he says. Moreover, like many CIOs, Kerley has to communicate with different stakeholders -- internal management, business users, the internal IT community, and external parties--and it's not in his comfort zone to tailor messaging accordingly.

"A professional communications role has the background and understanding to recognize all the stakeholders and be able to look at them through different sets of eyes," he explains. "The truth is what's important to me is not important to 90 percent of the rest of the population."

Consider a situation two years ago when Applied Materials was in the midst of transforming its IT organization to be more cost competitive. Working with Glaston Ford, his director, IT marketing, the pair was able to hammer out a corporate strategy presentation that explained the rationale and scope of impact in a way that made sense to the rest of the IT organization and the broader business, Kerley says. "The optimization strategy was going to touch and change almost every aspect of the business," he says. "Being able to paint that picture quickly have it resonate was critical and that's where a professional came into play."

With over 4,300 IT employees, HCA Information Technology and Services (IT&S) relies on a dedicated communications professional to help keep its staff informed and to keep employees connected to the role its technology provides in the lives of patients, according to Marty Paslick, the company's senior vice president and CIO. Paslick works with Kearstin Patterson, the company's assistant vice president of communications and design, to deliver a regular Monday message and weekly podcast that keeps all IT&S employees apprised of key projects and priorities, promotes exchange of personal stories and industry perspectives, and focuses the organization on the company's mission to deliver quality health care.


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