The relationship between university IT departments and their user bases can be strained at times, especially during large-scale systems implementations. IT’s job is to ensure that users have the training and support they need to take full advantage of technology, but even the most prepared project will run into bumps in the road. In these cases, it’s key to have a thorough plan in place to communicate your IT department’s successes to your stakeholders and smooth over any inevitable difficulties by building a strong relationship beforehand.
For university CIO’s, there are many useful tools for communicating with stakeholders: some provide an insider’s perspective on their day-to-day activity with a blog, others update their university’s website with project information, and many use social media to connect with their user bases.
Over the past two years, Ray Lefebvre, CIO & Vice President of IT at Bridgewater State University, has been hard at work improving how IT is marketed internally. We recently sat down with him to discuss how his internal marketing strategy has created a culture of collaboration at Bridgewater and how other universities can improve their relationship with stakeholders and IT department employees alike.
A Different Approach
Lefebvre saw this as an opportunity to showcase the value of IT to his stakeholders, rather than overwhelming them with metrics.
When Lefebvre became the CIO at BSU, he was presented with an opportunity to improve how IT was perceived across campus. As he explained, “we had many new initiatives to roll out, Office 365, cloud PC, and it was obvious that good communication was going to play an important role in all that we do.” Clearly, improvements could be made, not just in how IT projects were communicated to users, but also in the culture surrounding the IT department. Lefebvre saw this as an opportunity to showcase the value of IT to his stakeholders, rather than overwhelming them with metrics. “Many CIO’s approach this from an IT annual report perspective, but it’s different,” he said. Instead, Lefebvre clarified that effective IT communication is “all about opportunities, collaborations, and results, and the outcomes that lie therein.”
Communicating IT Outcomes
Lefebvre’s primary initiative to communicate the value of IT at BSU started in the form of a publication called IT Outcomes 2015. The publication, which was released in paperback, hardcover, and online, focused on “bringing to bear successful outcomes where people work together across the institution.” As Lefebvre explained, while technology plays a part in each of the showcased stories, it’s less about the specific technologies and “more about the outcomes, the value of IT.”
This approach does more than just communicate the success of IT to stakeholders; “IT Outcomes” was also meant to raise morale within the IT department and create a culture where employees feel valued. “They can connect with the stories,” Lefebvre said. “They’ve done the work from the past 9 to 10 months, and now they get to see it from a holistic perspective.” Having IT workers that are actively engaged and passionate about their work can be an incredible boon to any university, he explained. “IT is successful when the employees’ and staff’s well-being is in a good place. That’s just part of a good leadership approach.”
When communicating the value of IT, accessibility is paramount. Lefebvre ensured that the print copy of “IT Outcomes 2015” was sent to the university President, Frederick W. Clark Jr, as well as his cabinet, the board of trustees, faculty members, senior staff, and the entire IT department. The digital version was released on BSU’s website through UberFlip, making it easily accessible on mobile devices and on any browser. Alongside “IT Outcomes’” print and digital versions, BSU also released a short companion video, which you can view below:
Lefebvre plans to repeat the success of “IT Outcomes” this year with another publication and video to accompany it. The video for 2016 is planned to focus on “the positive outcomes of technology from the student perspective,” he said.
Changing the Culture
While the “IT Outcomes” initiative continues to be a significant part of his strategy for communicating the value of IT, Lefebvre expressed that communicating with stakeholders requires a multi-faceted approach. “What I’ve picked up on is that every modality is used: print, electronic, face-to-face.” Whether it’s meeting with users to discuss their needs or going on a biweekly walkabout to touch base with everyone in his department, Lefebvre makes face-to-face interaction a priority. “It’s good because people are comfortable,” he said. “There’s an openness to it, and that helps breed a better environment.” Lefebvre knew that changing the way IT was viewed at BSU would not happen overnight. “It’s an ongoing process,” he said. “It’s done in layers, and it’s done continuously.”
Effective Communication is Key
While every university’s culture is different, there is a lot that can be learned from Lefebvre’s success at Bridgewater. CIO’s may be inclined to make a business case for current projects or share data that showcases the importance of IT, but that may not be the best way to communicate with stakeholders. In an article for Educause Review’s September/October 2015 issue, Kathy Lang, the Chief Information Officer at Marquette University, shared a similar approach to marketing IT. “It’s not about technology,” she explained. “It’s about the value we are providing to the users and what it means to them.”
Lang described her approach to effectively communicating the value of IT with five simple questions:
- What is the event, issue, or information I want to communicate?
- What do I need or want to say about that event, issue, or information?
- Who needs to hear the message?
- Who needs to deliver the message?
- What tools and/or format should be used to deliver the message?
With a thorough plan in place and the right questions in mind, the last step for a successful IT communication strategy is ensuring that you get your message across to stakeholders. Whether you choose to publish marketing materials or create visual media to showcase the value of IT, it’s important to do so in a way that engages your target audience and provides the information they need effectively. For some projects, it may be necessary to work with your university’s marketing department to design marketing materials or strategize the best approach for conveying the value of the project.
Above all else, believing in your IT department and the value that they bring to your university is key. “You have to live it, love it, communicate it,” Lefebvre said. “You have to be proud of what your division is doing.”
Here are a few other examples for how to successfully market the value of IT:
- Create posters or fliers advertising specific ways in which features of IT systems can benefit users
- Host on-campus IT “exhibitions” highlighting new systems
- Recruit campus ambassadors (students, faculty, or staff) that have shown interest in new system implementations
- Have one on one conversations with campus opinion influencers
- Create a social media campaign
- Publish student and faculty testimonials on the impact of new technologies
- Survey users for feedback on how to improve
- Host focus group meetings with stakeholders
- Involve students and faculty in implementations when appropriate
- Publish a monthly newsletter to keep users informed
- Avoid jargon when communicating with non-IT savvy stakeholders
- Inform stakeholders about the limitations of IT. Avoid surprises.
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