How To Explain Complex Technology Issues To Business Leaders

Promising digital initiatives can only succeed with enthusiastic management support. Here’s how you can help business leaders understand why a complex new project is necessary for long-term competitive success.

Credit: sibstock via Adobe Stock

Credit: sibstock via Adobe Stock

As technology grows increasingly sophisticated and complex, it’s also becoming more baffling to business leaders, many of whom may have come of age in an era when fax machines and flip phones were all the rage. This poses a challenge for IT leaders who need wholehearted management support to receive the funding and other resources necessary to guide a proposed digital initiative to its successful conclusion. Here’s a quick look at ways IT pros can communicate effectively and productively with business counterparts to their mutual benefit.

Focus on the Goal

The most effective way to explain a new technology to non-tech-savvy colleagues is to emphasize how the project will ultimately benefit the organization. “From a purely business perspective, features and capabilities are secondary,” observed Chris Carragher, director of technology for hedge fund firm Kaiju Capital Management. The common thread should always be the organization’s growth and success, not the inner workings of a specific technology or system.

Unless it’s absolutely necessary, skip the solution’s technical details. “The more detailed one goes into a technology issue, the more nuanced it gets,” noted Prashant Kelker, partner and Americas lead, digital strategy and solutions, at technology research and advisory firm ISG. “The entire [conversation’s] tone changes from discussion to explanation,” he said. “Our non-tech colleagues get the gist, [but] they are more interested in the outcome, the path forward, and the approach to get there.”

Chris Carragher, Kaiju Capital Management

Chris Carragher, Kaiju Capital Management

Business leaders generally trust their tech counterparts to successfully address and resolve all the necessary technical details. What colleagues most want is assurance that whatever technology IT is proposing delivers benefits that outweigh capital and operating expenses. “We need to rise above the technology itself to explain the impact it will have,” Kelker said.

Jerry Kurtz, executive vice president of insights and data, at IT advisory firm Capgemini North America, also stressed the importance of focusing on the project’s potential business outcome and value. “Rather than getting into the details of the technology, challenge, or solution in technical terms, showcase the outcomes the solution can bring and how they will impact the business as a whole,” he explained. “Once this has been accomplished, it’s time to develop a roadmap to reach the agreed upon target state.”

Analogies Rule

Using analogies rooted in shared experiences is a good way to find a common ground with business leaders, advised Mike Bechtel, chief futurist at business and IT advisory firm Deloitte Consulting. “For example, you can try — and fail — to explain cognitive automation AI/ML by using technically accurate terms, like ‘in-band neural-network executables,’ yet that won’t prevent a non-technical audience from glazing over,” he warned.

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