How to leverage major tech news to build a new IT-employee relationship

Over the past few weeks, Microsoft, Google, and Apple have held their annual developer conferences. All three companies made major announcements and previewed upcoming versions of their various OSes and other products. All three garnered mainstream media coverage of their events as well as extensive coverage across the tech media.

This wasn’t always the case. For many years, these events were obscure, got virtually no mainstream press interest, and weren’t used to announcing major new products or upgrades. Many such events were long held under strict NDAs and were completely focused on the developers attending and not the outside world.

That has changed.

Perhaps the biggest sign of this change is that Apple has turned WWDC into a major media event and that it now openly streams many of the sessions to anyone who wants to watch in addition to live-streaming the keynote. It’s also worth noting that WWDC has become so popular in recent years that Apple has resorted to a lottery system for prospective attendees after the event sold out in minutes through traditional sign up options.

The keynotes of these events are now about much more than rallying the developers attending. They are full-fledged media events. They are covered as such by tech and mainstream publications. They are even used to showcase or announce services that developers will not be involved with, as was the case with the Apple Music announcement last week.

This shift is extremely important to IT leaders for two reasons:

  • Mainstream consumers now take notice of these events, their announcements, and actively base technology decisions on those announcements and previews. This includes end users, managers, and executives that a few years ago wouldn’t follow technology news nearly as closely as they do today.
  • That deeper knowledge, combined with an annual upgrade cycle for every major desktop or mobile OS means that these constituents will have much greater expectations in terms of implementing these newly announced technologies in their work and personal lives. With every enterprise device now a mixed-use device, regardless of whether it is owned by the employer or employee, this has direct impact on IT strategy and communication.

Using these events as catalysts for a new relationship between IT and business

I've written before about how mobile and cloud technologies are reshaping the relationship between IT and the rest of an organization. Most prominent is the notion of shadow IT, the ability for individuals, ad hoc groups, or whole departments to source their own apps and cloud services with or without IT’s involvement. I’ve also noted that shadow IT and this redefined relationship actually offer unique, once in a generation opportunities for IT leaders willing to rethink the IT-business relationship.

The ideal redefinition of that relationship is one where IT becomes the trusted advisor rather than the dictator of technology decisions. Being a trusted advisor requires trust and engagement from both sides. Communication is bedrock of building trust, particularly where there has previously been an adversarial relationship.

In a world where the entire user community is plugged into today’s technology news, IT has a lot to offer in this respect because IT can put news, announcements, and new products into context – both in the workplace as well as for personal/home use.

By stepping out in front of major technology events, IT can establish leadership, engage every stakeholder down to the individual worker, offer advice, and create an atmosphere of genuine cooperation and partnership.

This is a new style of communication for IT professionals that are used to simply providing basic one-way communications about enterprise solutions, upgrades, and policies. It requires much more engagement, thought about how individuals and teams might use both consumer and business tools, and an ongoing dialog. The tone needs to be distinct from issuing important messages and needs to be much more personable. It needs to feel like a friend or acquaintance saying “Hey, did you hear about this? Here’s how I think it could useful or important to you.”

This dialog should also be encouraged to go both ways. IT staff may indeed learn from users about how “non-techies” use their devices and apps both at home and on the job. That in turn can help make IT a better advisor.

The dialog also doesn’t need to be fixed in a traditional email paradigm. Blogs and wiki’s maintained by IT staff are also excellent vehicles and allow employees and executives to see a range of voices and get to know their IT counterparts. Enterprise social media tools like Yammer are also an excellent place to start the discussion, as are non-traditional support options like service bars.

Major tech events aren’t limited to late spring and any major news should be fodder for discussion. Some examples:

  • The release of new flagship smartphones, tablets, or wearables.
  • Major or even modest OS update releases and release schedules for specific devices
  • Announcement of new or updated consumer or business services
  • Potential security threats that may impact users personally even if business data is well protected
  • Emerging technology that hasn’t yet hit the mainstream

Even without major announcements, it’s important to keep a regular dialog going by offering advice, suggesting apps or workflows, and soliciting stories about how employees are using technology in their daily lives. Find a balance, however, in providing regular useful advice that won’t overwhelm the audience with too much information.

Staving off potential threats or challenges

One of the major benefits of developing an engaged relationship as a trusted advisor is that when there is something that you actively need or want to communicate to employees, they’re likely to be more receptive to listening.

This could be warning about a new security threat, which could be couched as a business notice and personal tip, but it can also be about much more modest challenges.

Take for instance, Apple’s decision to offer a public beta of iOS 9 at the end of this month. Many iPhone users are likely to sign up for the upgrade, eager to get their hands on the latest and greatest right away, without realizing the potential pitfalls of using an early beta OS on a device that may be central to their ability to complete key work tasks or manage critical aspects of their personal life such as health and finance. Advising them of the downsides like unstable functionality, the potential for work and personal apps to break, and the potential on features ranging from battery life to network usage, allows you to get the word out that this may not be the right choice for them.

If you’ve developed a trusting relationship, it will likely pay dividends for your department and organization. Reduced support incidents, less downtime, averting or limiting security or bandwidth issues are all simple examples. Even the users that do still install the beta will at least have some foreknowledge of what might happen and possibly how to mitigate the challenges.


(Image source: 9to5mac)

Ryan Faas