These days, IT should no longer be considered as a boring, back-office function. In a digitally-focused environment, it should be integral to everything a business does, from running day-to-day operations to setting out the long-term direction of the company's strategy.
But while this shift is being increasingly recognized by senior business executives - indeed, almost a third of Fortune 500 companies (31 percent) now include their chief technology officer on the board - there are still a lot of businesses where IT doesn't get the love it deserves.
This may be a result of outdated thinking, where IT is still viewed primarily as a cost center rather than a driver of business value, or it might just reflect the fact that some managers don't understand how relevant it has become. But whatever the reasons, it will be up to the IT team to address any misconceptions.
So how can IT professionals meet these challenges, answer the questions asked by their non-tech savvy bosses and ensure that the importance of their department is being respected at the very highest levels of the company? Here are a few key pointers to bear in mind.
1. Focus on the business benefits
It can be easy to get bogged down in the technical details when explaining a proposal for new IT investment. But while it may be important to you to highlight factors such as improved processing speeds and higher productivity, the inevitable question board members will have is what it will mean for their bottom line.
Picking out something that can show a demonstrable return on investment is vital, especially if your boss is still of the mindset that IT should be listed as a cost on the balance sheet, rather than something that can actually create revenue.
2. Demonstrate quick wins
A good way to do this is find something that can be implemented quickly and lead to firm results. For many bosses, talk of major IT projects that could take 12 or 18 months to implement - and then even longer to see a return - is a big ask, especially when they're under pressure to keep costs low.
A quick win that can show results within weeks - even if this is only on a smaller scale - can go a long way to demonstrating the difference an effective IT system can make. These don't even have to be costly projects. Doing something like automating some of your more tedious data entry activities, for example, can deliver instant results by freeing up employees from some of their least enjoyable activities and allow them to focus on more valuable areas.
If IT pros are able to present quick results to their bosses, whether this is in the form of improved finances or a demonstrable uptick in productivity, this can help them argue for wider-scale investments that can show how important IT is to the company.
3. Drop the jargon
There's no better way to get a boss to zone out during a conversation than to start throwing in complex, niche industry jargon that doesn't mean anything to anyone who doesn't spend all day in a server room. Therefore, it's vital that if your bosses are to appreciate the value of your department, you need to speak a language they understand.
This is related to ensuring you're framing everything in terms of business value, as mentioned above, but even when doing this, it can be easy for IT experts to slip into technical terms when describing how they will achieve the planned results.
However, it can be a fine balance between speaking plainly and not seeming to patronize your audience. There may well be a range of experience levels among senior management, so it’s important you know your audience and make sure you're being clear and concise at all times.