In “Three Ways CIOs Can Ensure Better Communication“, Paul Mandell of the Consero Group suggests methods to improve communication between IT and partners: encourage open dialogue, build strategic relationships, and establish Finance as a common language. I don’t want to pretend that I know more than the Fortune 1000 CIOs that came up with such a list, but I don’t feel particularly enlightened after digesting it.

Don’t get me wrong, “encouraging open dialog” goes beyond the ‘duh!’ advice that it might initially appear to be. It suggests more than just a passive open-door policy, instead actively soliciting requirements, feedback, and constructive criticism for the department. Nothing wrong there.

And building strategic relationships is paramount for aligning IT to business objectives, so I can’t fault that one. I wasn’t completely convinced of the underlying sentiment, though, since the advice was about exploring “shared interests” and “mutual challenges”. Being a responsive service provider is about doing what’s right for the business, not some bipartisan compromise. But let’s let that quibble slide.

No, the one that struck a sour note was the suggestion of Finance as a common language. While I don’t dispute that IT has financial issues to deal with, the positioning as the one-and-only “bottom line” and universal language is not always true. It smacks of old-school “IT as a cost-center” rather than today’s “agile solution provider for business differentiation”.

It is far more appropriate for finance to be an attribute to consider – one of many, not necessarily a bottom line – in pursuit of a goal. If the objective is cost reduction, then obviously finance plays a major role. But maybe the key objective is security of intellectual property. Or improving communication and collaboration. Or a desire to “eat our own dog food” as a customer showcase. I’ve been in many such situations where finance was hardly a foundational language. In some cases, even the very mention of financial issues during discussions with our business partners resulted in claims that we weren’t listening.

Cost, budgets, revenue impact, and ROI always have a role to play. And partners must certainly be familiarized with IT business drivers. But when money is brought up as the primary dial-tone for the conversation, it dulls the discussion and puts boundaries on creativity & innovation. It is perceived by the customer as too reminiscent of IT as “the department of ‘no’“. Everyone in the room has had the experience of wishing for a Ferrari while only able to afford a Yugo, so there’s no need to over-do it.

So what is the “common language”? The answer was already there. In an IT organization properly aligned to business objectives, it is the business objectives themselves that provide the common language. Don’t think in terms of us vs. them trying to find some middle ground via Finance. Instead, IT needs to learn to speak in terms of “opportunity management”. What better way to be on the same page with your partners than using the most direct language possible?