Getting Buy-in: How Storytelling Can Help IT Leaders

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One of the traits associated with data scientists — those techie, statistics geeks that are being hired en masse to handle big data — is “storytelling.” In fact, in one recent survey I conducted, storytelling was considered the primary skill expected of data scientists and analysts. Why? Because the volumes of data flowing into enterprises is bewildering and overwhelming to most people. Organizations need individuals who can not only find and pull out those nuggets of data that have some value to the business, but then be able to explain to the business why they should care about these data bits.

A new post at the Laserfiche site takes this idea a step further, proposing that IT leaders at levels become “storytellers.” This makes perfect sense, as they often are in the awkward position of asking their organizations to invest hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars in new systems. A common complaint heard across the business world is the lack of clear return on investment (ROI) for technology investments, or even money spent on hardware and software that doesn’t even get used.

Storytelling is essentially sales and marketing cloaked in a more personable and less agenda-driven purpose. But the goals are the same: to convince buyers (in this case, enterprise decision-makers) why this particular solution is the best thing for them. And, unlike many sales and marketing engagements, the storytellers stay right with their charges, providing guidance and ongoing encouragement after the solution is put in place.

Often, a solution such as a new policy administration system gets rolled out, some training is provided, then the CIO retreats to his or her office, the CEO, CFO and CMO retreat to their respective offices and fiefdoms, and things roll along until the next round of budget requests.

An effective storyteller can provide insights on some of the following questions about technology:

  • Are we making the most of this technology?
  • What pieces of the solution are being underused? How can we put it to more use?
  • How can we better take advantage of underused or unused resources?
  • Are there approaches to getting at new data or functions that we haven’t thought of yet?
  • Are we asking the right questions to get at a solution?
  • What do end-user employees think about the solution? What ideas are they coming up with?

There's no special skill required to be storytellers — even though some people naturally have the gift of gab. It's simply a matter of listening and then reflecting those thoughts back to business audiences. 
Joe McKendrick is an author, consultant, blogger and frequent INN contributor specializing in information technology.

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