5 tips for getting out of the server room and into the boardroom


It’s not just sitcoms like The IT Crowd that put technology experts in a world of their own: IT managers need to break out of the perception that their place is in the server room but not the board room.

To do so, they’ll need to translate their deep knowledge of technical systems and processes into insights that business people can understand. They’ll also have the power (and responsibility) to defuse technology hype and define targets for their co-workers that are most relevant to business success.

That sounds like a big ask of the humble IT manager, but the majority of them already feel up to the task. In SolarWinds’ New IT Survey released just last week, 97% of IT professionals surveyed said they feel at least quite confident in providing advice on critical business decisions – and almost half said they were completely confident that they could do so. Yet although it found that almost every IT professional has delivered this guidance and counsel at one time or another, 6 in 10 only get the chance to do so occasionally or rarely.

This suggests that businesses have yet to fully tap into the diverse technical expertise that their IT managers can bring to the boardroom table. IT professionals, however, can quite easily make their potential decision-making value known – all they have to do is align what they know with what the business wants and needs.

>See also: CIOs more integral to boardroom strategy than ever, say UK business leaders

Here are five tips which can help the typical tech professional stand out from the Roys and Mosses of their own IT crowd:

1) Talk the talk

Those who live outside the server room often have a pathological fear of the jargon and technical terms that IT managers are known to bandy around. Popular culture probably hasn’t helped this misperception, but IT professionals can help make their own case by working on how they translate the technical implications of a system into laypersons’ terms. Being able to succinctly and patiently explain how a system works will give executives and business leads greater buy-in to the technology that’s powering their operations. IT managers can further boost their business-lingo skills by talking to their counterparts in sales, marketing, and PR – they’re the best placed to gain effective communications tips and help better explain a piece of complex technology.

Remember: there’s no way you’ll be trusted with major business decisions if you talk like Moss.

2) Focus on outcomes, not features

IT managers have a tendency to emphasise the specs and features of solutions, rather than what they can do to help meet the business’ overarching goals. Instead of just describing the capabilities of technology, they should frame them in terms of business actions: “what can we do (better) with this?” rather than “what does this widget do?” This hammers home the relevance of the platform or solution in a manner that executives can not only understand, but support as actionable for the business. To do this most effectively, IT managers need to cultivate knowledge of what the board is aiming to do: almost 40 percent of those we surveyed said they could do with a better understanding of their company’s overall business. By clearly highlighting the correlations between technology and ROI, IT pros can forge stronger partnerships with executives and build up that understanding over time.

3) Up-skill to manage (lofty) expectations

Hard technical evidence is the perfect antidote to hype. More than 50 percent of the IT professionals we surveyed said that cloud computing and information security would grow most in demand of any skillsets in the next 3 to 5 years. No surprises there, given the constant spotlight on the cloud’s transformative potential and the high-profile nature of threats to organisational data.

IT managers should definitely focus on developing skills in these fast-growing areas; more importantly, however, they should use the resultant expertise to both meet and manage expectations from business leaders. IT managers’ technical nous gives them the credibility to rein in overzealous technology adoption, by highlighting the potential risks that this “me too” approach can pose if it isn’t informed by thorough requirements-gathering and planning. They should also take the initiative to suggest more appropriate solutions based on the underlying business needs that are driving enthusiasm or fear: a hybrid cloud, for example, may balance the security fears of a finance executive and the campaign vision of a marketing leader.

>See also: Boardroom matters – CIO interview

4) Use data to set better metrics

IT managers have access to vast amounts of organisational data, much of which can be used to optimise broader business processes and product/service delivery. By developing a decent overview of this data, and putting in place tools that can effectively track it, they can define new KPIs and metrics that are not just quantifiable, but also directly correlated with business performance. Tracking network traffic, for example, makes sense for both marketing campaigns (external browsers) and flexible work initiatives (employees’ devices). Once IT professionals identify the core business imperatives at play, they can use that knowledge to better inform the targets that the business sets itself, and how these targets are measured.

5) Send word from the coal-face

Finally, IT professionals often interact with a broad range of employees and customers far more than board-level executives get to do. And while isolated reports of “my computer isn’t turning on” may not have relevance to enterprise strategy, the attentive IT pro is likely to get wind of mission-critical trends – like poor quality-of-service, increasing outages, or malfunctioning hardware fleets – that do. By transmitting these issues and their related counsel to other business leaders, IT managers can do a lot to stop them escalating or identify new opportunities for organisational growth.

With technology playing such a defining role in business and the workplace today, IT professionals are more relevant than ever to the big decisions that organisations make. To be heard, they simply need to translate their technical prowess into insights and advice that directly impact the wellbeing of their companies, from the adoption of new technologies to the basic processes of product development and sales. The server room may always feel like home, but for many businesses the boardroom’s where the IT leader is needed the most.


This article was contributed by Patrick Hubbard, head geek at SolarWinds

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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