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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.

"These efforts have helped to engender oneness and a singleness of purpose while preventing silos within a geographically diverse organization," Paslick explains. "While amazing stories of technology improving healthcare have always existed in our organization, sharing these stories as well as regular updates and engaging employees has been key to our ability to effectively support HCA's efforts to continually deliver better patient outcomes."

Finding the talent to communicate IT

While there are IT-grown professionals who meet the qualifications for the role, most CIOs have opted to go with candidates with a professional communications background simply because they have more in-depth training. "I'm a firm believer in certification of specific roles and competencies within the organization so when we went to secure a communications role, we didn't want someone from IT who could write with the right grammar or use spell check, we wanted someone with the proper professional background," Kerley says. "They needed to understand what it means to work with external and internal communications, how to partner in a matrix way with the corporate team, and how to drive consistent messaging."

A strong communications background is essential for the role, but it also requires someone who is steeped in the particular industry and has a keen understanding and interest in embracing new technology, notes HCA's Patterson. "We have 700 projects in our IT portfolio--550 of them approved projects," she says. "That's a lot of projects you have to learn about to be a good communicator in this position."

Kerley says giving the dedicated communications professional a seat at the IT management table is central to that learning process which is why Ford's position is a director level and reports directly into the CIO. "If someone is chartered with building a brand image and communicating and creating linkages between our strategy and what it means to stakeholders then they have to have a seat at the table and access to the management team to understand those strategies," Kerley says. "Without that access, it would make the role much more difficult and our ability to leverage it much more difficult."

Making the investment in a dedicated professional also ensures IT gets the communications support it needs when it needs it -- a scenario that isn't always possible when using shared corporate resources, Bhagat says. "If EMC is doing an analyst meeting and I'm getting ready to launch something, where do you think corporate PR's focus will be?," he asks.

That dedicated focus to IT's needs certainly came in handy after EMC's recent internal data center outage, Bhagat says. "I can communicate at an executive level and have those conversations about how IT can drive cost out or promote business acceleration," he explains. "Yet when it comes to having relevant conversations with each of my customer groups, I prefer to have someone who has my back."


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