4 Best Practices for Communicating the Business Value of IT

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You have an IT project that you would like to get started or a new technology that you want to implement. You know it will have a positive impact on the business, and you know this is the sort of technology or project that your organization needs to stay competitive in an increasingly digital world.

However, your pitch for the initiative fails, and you don't get budget approval.

This will be a familiar scenario for IT leaders in many industries. You will probably also be familiar with the feelings of frustration that executives just don't get technology and don't understand the role it plays in the business. You might also be frustrated when executives view IT as a cost rather than an investment.

 

Getting to the Heart of the Problem

That's the crux of the problem, right – executives who don't "get" IT?

Not exactly.

Here comes the straight-talking bit: the executives aren’t the problem. The way you presented the IT initiative is the problem.

While it would be great in an ideal world, it is not the job of executives with non-IT responsibilities or roles to "get" IT. They look at the issues differently from people who fully embrace the power and potential of technology. 

It’s your job to align the IT initiative you are presenting with their priorities, pain points, desired outcomes, and objectives. In other words, you need to demonstrate clearly that you have a solution to a problem that will create the desired impact and eventually deliver a return on investment.

How do you do that? Here are our four best practice tips for communicating the value of IT initiatives, technology, and digital transformation projects to non-IT decision-makers.

 

1. Highlight the Business Impact of the IT Initiative

Senior executives are generally not interested in technology features and IT functionality. Instead, they want to know the impact the initiative or technology will have on the business, although this is only the first step. They will also want to know about value and strategy:

  • Value – what is the added value to the business of the IT initiative, i.e., increased revenue, improved productivity, etc.
  • Strategy – how the impact of the initiative aligns with the objectives of the business and how it will influence, support, or benefit the strategic direction the company is taking.

To appeal to these priorities, there are some steps you need to take:

  • Get an understanding of the company's objectives and strategic direction.
  • Make an assessment of the impact the IT initiative will have.
  • Assess the outcomes that will be delivered. 

Outcomes are exponentially more important to budget allocation decision makers than technology features. Outcomes could be value-adding, strategy supporting, or both.

For example, your organization might be facing staffing shortages, creating a focus on getting a long-term solution. You then identify a technology that will automate repetitive but essential administration processes. When you present this solution, your pitch should focus on value/strategy, impact, and outcomes:

  • Value/strategy – resolve the staffing issues currently holding the company back.
  • Impact – the automation solution will take on processes currently completed by staff.
  • Outcomes – less staff required, solving the staffing problem. Plus, there is the bonus that existing staff can be reallocated to tasks that are more value-adding than repetitive admin tasks, helping to drive the business forward.

 

Non-Financial Business Impact

One final point to highlight with this best practice tip is the importance of non-financial impacts. 

Often the focus is entirely on the financial benefits of an IT initiative – cost savings, revenue growth, productivity gains. However, non-financial impacts can be equally important.

Those impacts generally center on experiences – the customer experience, employee experience, and the experience of other stakeholders, including partners and suppliers.

In our example above, there are financial numbers you could include in your presentation – for example, the savings that will be made with a reduced headcount.

However, this example also has non-financial business impacts, including improving the employee experience as staff previously working on repetitive (i.e., boring) admin tasks will get increased job satisfaction when their responsibilities shift to being more value-adding. This can improve staff retention, morale, and more.

Executives will be interested in these non-financial outcomes, too, so it is worthwhile understanding and then communicating them.

 

2. Look to the Future, Not the Past

The executives controlling the budgets you want to unlock will be very much focused on the future of the business and where it is going. They want ideas, plans, and initiatives that are forward-thinking and help move the organization in the right direction – forward.

Therefore, stay focused on the future rather than talking about past experiences and learnings. Your IT initiative is not about what you have done before but what you are passionate about achieving in the future.

 

3. Deal in Facts and Concentrate on Return on Investment

By this stage, you should have the executives on board with the outcomes that will be achieved by the IT initiative and your vision for the future. At some point, though, the cold hard facts must be addressed – money.

How much is this going to cost us?

First, avoid viewing the IT initiative as a cost, presenting it instead as an investment. That investment should deliver a quantifiable return where the executive can see that investing A will deliver B.

Make sure you stick to the facts when presenting return on investment. Broad statements and predictions that you can’t back up with data will probably derail your initiative. 

It is much better to deal in specifics, stick to the facts, and focus on projections based on data rather than finger-in-the-air predictions.

One final point – data is essential, but too much data can produce a reaction opposite to what you want to achieve. When you overload your proposal with too many facts and figures, the data becomes a blur. 

The better approach is to keep the figures you present simple and relevant.

 

4. Be Open About Challenges

There are very few (if any) initiatives that come across an executive’s desk that are a slam dunk. Everything has challenges and an element of risk. Executives know this, so it’s important you are upfront and open about the challenges your initiative will face.

As it is an IT initiative, there are likely to be change impacts on the organization’s technology infrastructure, for example, and with users. The risks might include rates of adoption, cybersecurity, or integration challenges. 

Explain these challenges and risks clearly, but don’t stop there. It’s also important to explain your risk mitigation plans and the steps you will take to address the challenges.

By outlining the risks and explaining your plan for dealing with them, you will enhance confidence in your overall strategy.

 

Talking Their Language

All four points above are about talking in a language that resonates with executives and appeals to their priorities:

  • They want to deal with staffing challenges, so solve them. 
  • They want to deliver a better customer experience than the competition, so show them how technology can help with this. 
  • They want to speed up the sales process, so show them how bespoke workflows and automation can achieve this. 

You get the idea.

Talking their language will result in green lights for more of your IT projects and technology initiatives.

Wondering how to align technology with your company’s goals? We can help you create a roadmap and IT strategy to achieve this. Contact us today. 

 

About The Author

President of NSI, Tom has been helping small and medium businesses succeed in Connecticut for over 25 years.