Bridging the IT Communications Gap

One of the common struggles IT professionals has is communicating to those we are providing technology to. We often communicate AT them about the things that WE think are important, which is oftentimes out of step with what is and can be understood.

Some key points for good communications

  • Evaluate each point with the eye of the recipient. After writing the first draft, evaluate each point (sentence) to determine if what is stated is something that the reader would consider important and salient to their need? If it doesn’t, take it out. Essentially, if their knowledge the issue, or the lack thereof, doesn’t change their level of understanding or their engagement, then consider removing it. I usually ask, does the President, the Provost, or a faculty member really care about that statement? If the answer is probably not, then it’s not necessary.
  • Keep the communications brief. If it’s an email announcement it should pass the “scan test.” The “scan test” is structuring the message so that the reader can get the essence of the message with a quick scan.
    • What?
    • Why?
    • When?
    • Who’s impacted?
  • Add a web link for more information. If the message needs more detail to satisfy more inquisitive minds, consider creating a place on the website that provides more detail and add the link to the email message.

Four steps to take to help establish good communications habits:

  1. Run the message past some one who doesn’t have a stake in the message and if they aren’t very technical, that’s a bonus. Ask that person to tell you what the message means to them.
  2. Don’t confuse brevity and simplicity. While keeping things simple is important, don’t sacrifice simplicity for confusion. Sometimes the message can be so simple that it can generate more questions than it answers.
  3. Contextualize the message. Contextualize the communication as much as possible and eliminate jargon. Rather than stating that the ERP system will be down for maintenance, use the terminology that they use on a daily basis. Or that we’re rolling out a new unified messaging system. We usually do not remember anything we can’t relate to.
  4. Answer the “why” question early. Knowing the reason why is very important—in the context of their world—because if they understand the why, understanding the rest of the message is easier.

One of the many steps we’ve taken to improve our communications is reconfiguring an open position and hiring an IT Communications Specialist. This person isn’t technical, she is communications person. She is responsible for strategic and tactical communications of the technology department to all external stakeholders (i.e. faculty, staff, students, alumni, corporate partners, etc.). She is responsible for understanding the effects of technology changes on all stakeholders and groups and designing communication strategy, plans and materials to address these changes. In addition, she assists with communication strategy and materials for each of the advisory committees.

While, we are going through some growing pains as she gets familiar with the staff, the culture of the institution, and as she gains more understanding of how things are connected, we feel confident that as she grows, we will achieve our goal to help our stakeholders understand the benefits of the technology solutions they are using.

Lastly, this role doesn’t enable my senior staff to abdicate their role in communicating, because being able to communicate and taking the time to do it is everyone’s responsibility. But, we believe that her role will help us coordinate a consistent and intentional communications operation that effectively uses all the appropriate digital and physical communication modalities. Keeping the communication “bite sized,” consistent, and intentional will go a long way in ensuring that our technology investments are fully realized.

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