This article has been contributed by Kylie Fowler. Regular columnist and Analyst at The ITAM Review.
Stakeholder management is the art (and yes, it is an art!) of managing those people and groups who have an effect on your ITAM activities as well as those who themselves are affected by your ITAM activities. These people are your stakeholders.
Stakeholders are important because they can have a huge influence on the success or otherwise of your ITAM programme. An influential stakeholder who is ‘on-side’ and supportive of ITAM can help obtain resources for your ITAM efforts and influence other stakeholders who may see less value in ITAM or may be downright hostile. Other stakeholders, even seemingly minor ones, may have the power to reduce the effectiveness of your ITAM activities or even actively erect barriers to implementing best practice. The core of stakeholder management is to maximize stakeholder support and minimize the potential for hostile stakeholders to hinder or even block the achievement of ITAM objectives.
Stakeholder management is particularly challenging for ITAM practitioners because ITAM has a wide and diffuse pool of stakeholders, many of whom know little and care less about the importance and value of ITAM. My previous article ‘SAM is a Team Sport’, talks about some of the stakeholders for a SAM programme, although of course there are many more, particularly in middle management.
Managing stakeholders effectively is vital for maintaining the momentum of your programme. Senior stakeholders are often only interested in ITAM when there is a crisis, for instance during an audit, and once the crisis has been managed effectively it can be hard to ensure that resources and support continue to be available for business as usual activities.
Less senior stakeholders can easily slip back into old ways of doing things if not regularly reminded about the importance of new processes and encouraged to carry out the low priority, tedious administration tasks without which ITAM cannot function. Stakeholder management can be an important tool for embedding change within organisations and minimizing the likelihood that the new way of working will be a failure.
The heart of stakeholder management is communication – determining what, how much and with whom we should communicate our activities. Everybody, no matter what their role, already engages in a degree of stakeholder management – discussing activities with line managers, picking up the phone to discuss a problem with colleague, publishing formal reports, even having a chat at the ‘water cooler’ are all ways of managing stakeholders, however “Stakeholder Management” aims to formalize this process by identifying and analyzing all stakeholders in order to define and implement a communications plan that will maximize their support and minimize potential hostility.
There are four steps to effective stakeholder management.
Identify your stakeholders
The first step in managing your stakeholders is to think about who they are! Stakeholders can be either directly affected by or able to influence ITAM activities, or be indirectly affected or influence ITAM activities. Although it can sometimes be challenging to identify and influence indirect stakeholders, these people can still be extremely power eg the colleagues or managers of direct stakeholders.
There may also be individuals or groups who are not currently considered stakeholders but you feel they should be or you decide you want them to be because you want to influence them! For instance, you may have a long term objective to link your ITAM Database with the ERP system and want to start developing links with the finance department, or believe that there is duplication in certain processes which could be streamlined.
All these people and groups are stakeholders plus anyone else you wish to include in the list! You will find your list is a very long one, but the process of analysing your stakeholders will begin to whittle it down.
Understand your Stakeholders
In order to communicate effectively and influence your stakeholders you need to understand their expectations of the ITAM function and how they currently perceive it. Are they interested in hardware or software asset management or both? Is their primary concern keeping systems running and providing a service to the business eg the helpdesk? Do they have a broad perspective of the business and need to ensure business priorities are met eg the CIO? Do they see benefits from ITAM activities, or do they just see it as an administrative burden with few redeeming qualities?!
How and what you communicate with your stakeholders will also be determined by a combination of how powerful they are (their ability to provide resource or hinder the objectives of ITAM) and how interested they are in supporting your activities. For instance, a senior manager may be very powerful, but have a minimum interest in directly supporting ITAM. However, if you can communicate the business benefits of ITAM effectively, their interest may increase so that they become more active in supporting and securing resource for your activities.
At the other end of the spectrum, an IT Administrator has a low level of power to secure resource or adversely affect your activities outside their day to day processes, but has a high level of interest in ITAM because changes in the way ITAM is carried out will directly affect his or her day to day job. In this case, you will need to ensure that you get their feedback on new ways of doing things, but otherwise your goal is to keep them satisfied so they continue to do their best to make ITAM successful.
Identify your Goals
Once you understand your stakeholders, you may find that there are some stakeholders you would like to influence or change their behavior or attitudes. Other stakeholders may just need to be informed of what is happening in ITAM, while others need to be informed of problems and risks so they can take action themselves if necessary. What you would like to achieve from your communications with your stakeholders will depend a lot of their viewpoint, the power they have for good or bad over ITAM and their interest level in ITAM. Changing the attitude of a stakeholder is difficult, but communicating with them is often the only way to achieve the change you need.
Plan your communications
A communications plan outlines the active steps you will take to communicate with your stakeholders. You may not need to communicate with all your stakeholders, while you may only need to communicate with others on an informal or ad hoc basis. A communications plan is a document which outlines those stakeholders with whom you wish to actively communicate, what you are trying to achieve by the communications, what will be communicated, by whom and how frequently. IT Asset Managers who are in a fairly steady business as usual state may find their communications plan consists mainly of their reporting timetable, while others who are implementing ITAM as a project or going through a period of substantial change may find it useful to have a formal document which is reviewed on a regular monthly or quarterly basis to confirm communications activities are effective and support the change that is being implemented.
For those who find a formal plan useful, it should include all formal communications to all stakeholders, as well as details of how you intend to communicate to those stakeholders you actively wish to influence.
We communicate all the time, both informally and formally. Communications shouldn’t be restricted to those outlined in the plan, but one of the benefits of a communications plan is that it will help your communications stay ‘on message’ and ensure that you don’t neglect less accessible stakeholders who require regular communications but who may otherwise be ‘out of the loop’.
Communications should be in a variety of formats to ensure the message doesn’t get stale. Informal communications can be very powerful in ensuring people remain supportive and understand the background and aims of your ITAM programme – never under-estimate the power of a friendly phone call or taking time out to have a cup of coffee with someone. However always ensure decisions or difficult messages are followed up in a formal manner to ensure there is no ambiguity or ‘wriggle room’.
Communications should also be two ways – it is as important to ensure you are meeting the needs of your stakeholders as it is to encourage them to meet yours. Ensure you remain open to suggestions, that you always consider requests carefully (and are seen to consider them carefully!) and that you avoid becoming a ‘block’ in people’s minds. Most people understand the need for a gatekeeper but hate having the gate shut in their face, so avoid doing this if at all possible!
The most important asset available to an IT Asset Manager is not having a tool at your finger tips, or even effective processes, but it’s the people you work with and rely on to get your job done. Encouraging them to support you and ensuring that you are seen to support them in turn has the potential to super-charge your success way beyond the implementation of a new tool set or the tweak of a process. Trust that to treasure your stakeholders and nurture your relationships with them will pay rich dividends in the future.
This article has been contributed by Kylie Fowler. Regular columnist and Analyst at The ITAM Review.
About Martin Thompson
Martin is also the founder of ITAM Forum, a not-for-profit trade body for the ITAM industry created to raise the profile of the profession and bring an organisational certification to market. On a voluntary basis Martin is a contributor to ISO WG21 which develops the ITAM International Standard ISO/IEC 19770.
He is also the author of the book "Practical ITAM - The essential guide for IT Asset Managers", a book that describes how to get started and make a difference in the field of IT Asset Management. In addition, Martin developed the PITAM training course and certification.
Prior to founding the ITAM Review in 2008 Martin worked for Centennial Software (Ivanti), Silicon Graphics, CA Technologies and Computer 2000 (Tech Data).
When not working, Martin likes to Ski, Hike, Motorbike and spend time with his young family.
Connect with Martin on LinkedIn.