If You Don’t Market IT Operations, Who Will?
by Bill Keyworth
Significant attention is devoted by IT organizations to delivering the technology and processes that ensure achievement of business objectives. It’s what we do in IT. It’s the recognition that drives our actions. It’s our purpose for existing. Yet is it sufficient to simply deliver the value without being recognized for that contribution? I would suggest that IT best practices require that we not only deliver on the promise of IT, but that we also take the steps necessary to be recognized for that value so that the business “buys IT” in that we remain adequately funded, we gain support for technology investments, we obtain backing for critical IT initiatives and we ensure responsiveness to our dependencies.
Marketing IT is Not Natural Behavior
If we don’t ensure market recognition of what we do within IT, it simply isn’t happening. Delivery of technology and IT processes for business use is a competency factor that is second nature to IT operational staff whose career anchor is providing critical automation tools and effective service. Positioning or “marketing” that delivery so that its value is simple, compelling, and obvious to business personnel is not second nature to most IT professionals. Rather, within IT circles it is difficult and uncomfortable to blow your own horn. The typical IT response is “don’t they see what we’re doing for them?” The answer is “no.” Business executives understand the importance of sales, or finances, or customer relations, or manufacturing, or research …or whatever function upon which they have created career focus. Unfortunately, it is the rare executive that comprehends and acts on the value of unfamiliar business disciplines.
So the business community doesn’t understand all the great things that IT does for them? …what else is new! If our end users are going to “get” IT, it will be because we have packaged what we do in such an awesome, compelling way that they can’t help but understand the tremendous value IT brings to their business functions. It will be because we know how to “market” IT to our business customers. And fortunately it is not rocket science …it’s being crisp, clear, and compelling in how we package what we do so that we’re seen as highly desirable and beneficial to what the business does each day.
Competitive IT Options
While outsourcing some IT services has long been an option, the acceptance of Cloud for such purposes is accelerating. Most Cloud initiatives are driven by business demands for more rapid provisioning of infrastructure and applications at lower cost, reflecting some dissatisfaction with IT’s ability to deliver technology in a format acceptable to business decision makers. The flexibility of leveraging virtual servers and online storage through Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) has become a “must evaluate” decision for both business and IT managers. The pervasiveness of Salesforce.com for Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is but one example of the readiness of business to bypass IT for Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) capabilities.
Even though Cloud expectations reflect some lack of understanding by business users re: how IT Operations delivers and manages technology, there is limited ability for the business to suddenly grasp the nuances, issues and trade-offs continually required by IT Operations. Consequently, the role of IT Operations in managing infrastructure, platform and application Cloud initiatives is now a requirement. Cloud competitive migration requires IT to “market” its role in the correct path forward.
The perpetual competitive option of “doing nothing” continues with business decision makers continually cutting IT budget while complexity and end user expectations re: IT’s contribution increases. There is a definite need to correctly market and position IT to simply continue the IT operations tasks at hand.
IT Marketing Process
At multiple times in my career, I’ve spent insightful years in Marketing VP roles packaging, positioning, and promoting the benefits of software to IT decision makers. During my 7 years as an IT industry analyst I have witnessed good, bad and great vendor marketing. More importantly, throughout my IT oriented career, I have seen fantastic, creative, motivated and competent IT people struggle to be recognized for what they have contributed to the business. Based on actual experience with IT marketing successes and roadblocks, I would offer that achieving “market” recognition for IT can be a straight-forward, yet effective five step process.
This Executive Update only reviews the first step of Market Vision …which is the foundational element most often overlooked, bypassed, and ignored in the marketing initiatives I have observed …yet it is mandatory to the success of the remaining four steps. Market vision (step 1) is strategic intention and competitive differentiation and market focus (step 2) demands an understanding of your IT target market …not just who they are (IT users, end user customers, etc.) but what is driving their business use of technology.
Based upon these characteristics of your target IT users, your messaging is then developed (step 3) that “positions” the unique differentiation of your IT service in resolving the urgent IT issues/problems for your target buying community. Packaging of that IT message (step 4) is assembled …and only then is execution of your IT marketing program (step 5) initiated and exposed to your customer/user. (These last four elements of marketing IT are contained in Part 2 of this Executive Update entitled “How Do You Market IT to Customers of IT?”)
Starting with a Vision
IT “vision” deals with “what” you do and how you do it better than anyone else …in 3-5 long term ways. One of the most frequently referenced examples of a vision gone wrong deals with railroads believing they were in the rail business instead of the transportation business in the early 1900’s. Too frequently, IT makes the same error in articulating vision by believing they are in the delivery and maintenance of IT infrastructure and applications when they should be in the use of technology to further the business purpose of their enterprise ...be it a corporation, government agency or educational institution.
Many IT organizations confuse “vision” with a mission statement. They are not the same. A mission statement focuses on your purpose for existing and gets into organizational values and goals that drive that management tool. A well-crafted IT mission statement can be incredibly beneficial in creating a common organizational vision for IT staff, but by itself, a mission statement fails to translate into a value proposition that becomes a marketing tool for IT’s customers and users.
Vision has laser focus on creating a marketing message that can boldly declare how your IT organization uniquely contributes to the business goals of the enterprise and why nobody does it better. I’ve witnessed a frequent academic detachment to the development of mission statements while articulating vision stirs passion and commitment due to the emphasis on unique differentiation. It is a very revealing type of group exercise.
Aligning IT Vision with IT Usage
IT Vision must align with how IT is actually used. For example, if the business objective of the enterprise is to deliver cost-effective, secure operations that ensure long term value to stockholders and employees2, the vision of that IT organization must address how only they can predictably deliver the stable technologies that are consistently available and monitored to minimize the number of IT operational surprises. Therefore the IT vision of this company demands an image of IT’s unique contribution to regulatory compliance, system availability, fail safe operations, and network continuity that cannot be guaranteed by external cloud service providers or with severely reduced budgets.
Similarly, if the business objective of the company is product and service leadership through “nimble” competitive differentiation that enables premium pricing3, the vision of that IT organization must address how they can rapidly incorporate leading edge technologies to empower interactive behaviors between customers, partners and employees. Therefore the IT vision of this company paints a picture of how quickly IT delivers an early adoption of newer technologies that might advance aggressive revenue goals or enable unique products and services.
Articulating IT Vision
A vision is used as the basis for ensuring marketing consistency with a two to three sentence “Elevator Pitch” to continually test and modify that vision4. An effective Elevator Pitch becomes the “test” of a great (…versus mediocre) vision and answers the following four questions in a way that compels the listener to want what your IT services offer:
- What we do…
- Who we do it for…
- How we do it…
- Why our customers (users) want it…
The Elevator Pitch is a 30-second vision summary that is crisp and clear so that it is understandable by a breadth of business types …from the cost oriented accounting executive, to the revenue focused sales vice-president, to the content demands of the research director. It captures the long-term, strategic intent so that users are motivated to buy into your immediate recommendations because they can trust where you are going. It declares IT’s unique differentiation re: how its services are offered, priced, and delivered. It avoids hype (…which is usually short term semantics) and solution specifics. It needs to resonate as truthful and focuses on the customer (…problem-out) and not IT (…program-out.)
In order for IT users to really “get” IT, we must market what we do in a crisp, clear and compelling message so that our business customers understand the great value that IT brings to their daily labors. If end users are to effectively “buy into IT,” recognition of IT’s unique, competitive positioning can only be achieved by IT proactively marketing to its end users. Unfortunately, such business support won’t happen by chance or non-action.
Marketing IT is a five step process that begins with articulation of IT’s market vision. That vision is crafted, packaged and executed in the context of marketplace position (…how IT fits within the enterprise), competitive analysis (…IT alternatives) and marketplace-focused tactics and messages (…tailored to IT’s users). As the foundational element of IT marketing, the successful vision enables message consistency for all things IT; a positive aura that precedes and eases IT’s interactions with end users; and increased efficiency and predictable budget allocations.
1Mathis, Jennifer. “The Five Ws (and One H) of Effective Mission Statements. Marriott Alumni Magazine. Fall, 2010, pp. 22-26.
2Keyworth, Bill and Rick Berzle. "Why Doesn't the Business Drive BSM? A Value-Driven Business Service Management Maturity Model." BSMreview.com. March, 2010 pp.7, 10-11.
3Keyworth, Bill and Rick Berzle. "Why Doesn't the Business Drive BSM? A Value-Driven Business Service Management Maturity Model." BSMreview.com. March, 2010 pp.9, 11.
4 Pincus, Aileen. “The Perfect (Elevator) Pitch.” http://www.nixonvs.com/blog/index.php/the-perfect-elevator-pitch. December 23, 2009.
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