Indeed, IT often goes unappreciated unless and until something fails to work as expected. "I've seen a lot of companies where business units can overrule IT," Vitale says. That philosophy holds, he says, unless an important tech function fails. "Then they're waiting for the IT team to swoop in and save the day. It's the most thankless job in the world right up until something goes wrong."
But while it may be tempting to deliberately break something or allow it to fail so as to gain the recognition that comes with fixing a business-impacting problem, deliberately doing your job badly will not be beneficial to your department, your employer or your career. And there are better ways to get IT's value across to top executives, even when things are running smoothly.
Let them know what you're doing
"There is this conception that if I'm concentrating on BYOD, all the old stuff like server patching and firewall configuration can take a back seat. But those things need to be taken care of as much as the new shiny projects do," says Joel Dolisy, CTO (and top IT executive) at SolarWinds, an Austin-based network management company with annual revenue of $269 million. The solution, he says, is to provide regular updates on what IT has accomplished. For example, he says, "I have a meeting with my CEO today to talk about the latest things we've achieved in Web development, and that people are not twiddling their thumbs all week waiting for problems to happen."
"Executives are sensitive to money and to the total head count devoted to the IT department. Providing that information on a regular basis is primordial, because otherwise people think the money is going into a black hole," Dolisy says.
That's not a good situation. "There's a clear danger that if IT is not communicating well with the rest of the executive team and providing transparency into day-to-day operations, a lot of mundane tasks will be trivialized," Dolisy says. "At that point, it's difficult to deal with. The only thing that comes from the rest of the executive team is pressure to downsize the budget and downsize the number of heads, and only work on the new shiny projects. That's a recipe for disaster."
And Vitale wonders, "How many jobs have been outsourced just because the IT team did a poor job of explaining what they do on a daily basis?"
Keep it short and sweet
While many CIOs agree that it's essential to let upper management know about IT's activities and accomplishments, they warn that the task must be handled carefully because of the many competing demands on top executives' attention, and the danger that they won't fully listen to a presentation about technology operations, much less read a report about it.
For McLaughlin, the solution is to give the CEO a written report -- but a brief one. "It's very simple and executive-level, and it's one page," he says. "Basically, the question is: Are we winning or losing? If we're winning, maybe the executive can move on to something else. System availability was 99.89 percent. Do we care about the 0.11 percent? Maybe not."
Brady tries to casually mention to the CEO whenever her team completes a substantial project. Let's say they've just updated the company's mail servers to the latest version of Microsoft Exchange. "No one's going to see anything other than that the mail server has changed," she says. "But that's a pretty big project for the infrastructure team. So if you take your high-level project plan and explain why you're doing it and the effort involved, they'll see that there's a substantial project your team is doing."
Use the right measurements
If you want top executives to value IT's efforts, it's important to communicate those efforts in terms business executives care about. That means learning which metrics those executives are watching.