CXO

How do you deal with a remote office that wants IT autonomy?

A department at a remote location attempts to make up for inadequate technical support by taking control of its own LAN. If you were the IT manager responsible for providing support, what would you do?


We are a county government agency supporting approximately 800 users. Several of our departments are at remote locations. Our hardware staff consists of just two support techs who have too much on their plates at our primary location to be able to provide sufficient support for any of the remote locations. With so few staff, keeping all the remote locations connected and keeping the users adequately supported have long been difficult and frustrating tasks.

One of the remote locations has been particularly problematic. At this location, the department in question has an employee who has taken it upon himself to adopt the role of IT liaison independent of the IT department. This self-appointed liaison was “given” administrative access to the PCs on the department’s remote subnet and, for several years now, has been operating in the role of support tech and local network administrator. Initially, while he confined his activities to troubleshooting minor problems, this situation was tenable and all-too-easy for us to ignore. The calls for help from the department decreased, and we were so busy keeping our local users and other locations happy, it was difficult not to simply put off dealing with the self-appointed tech.

It was not long, however, before we started to pay for our procrastination. Having increased his knowledge somewhat and having gained the confidence of his department, the “tech” started making more drastic changes, which ultimately resulted in frequent breaks in their connectivity to the core business applications. Then the cries for help from the remote location were directed at the IT department instead of the local “tech.” Every time connectivity was lost, we would have to abandon other tasks and start troubleshooting the cause of the breakage, trying to discover exactly what changes had been made.

In an attempt to rectify the situation, we spoke with the “tech’s” department head and offered to configure the department's PCs to our standard desktop image and remove all the “tech’s” administrative access. The department head balked because the office is remote and, based on past experience, the department head felt that the office would not receive an adequate level of service. The department had been so happy with the “tech’s” support in the past, the workers had a hard time accepting that he could be the cause of the loss of connectivity, and, even if he was, they still believed that he provided better support than we could.

Now we’re not sure how to proceed. Our department is already overworked and incapable of providing adequate support to the current user population. We cannot hire more staff, nor can we contract the services of any third party. Given these limitations, we feel uncomfortable pushing too hard to regain control of the remote office, but we also believe that simply allowing the “tech” to continue unrestrained would be detrimental to both the remote office and us.

We want to hear what you have to say!
You can submit your ideas either by e-mail or by posting a discussion item at the end of this column. A week after the publication of a scenario, we'll pull together the most interesting solutions and common themes from the discussion. We will later present them with the situation's actual outcome in a follow-up article. You may continue to add discussion items after the week has elapsed, but to be eligible for inclusion in the follow-up article, your suggestions must be received within a week of the scenario's publication.

A nightmarish CIO pushes one IT manager to the brink
In an earlier column, TechRepublic presented a scenario in which a CIO of a loosely associated conglomerate of companies attempted to take control of all IT staff and resources by less-than-ethical means. Unfortunately for the particular IT manager in question, your responses offered very little cause for optimism, as the vast majority simply advised him to update his resume and find an alternative position as soon as possible:

“You have lost this one. Get out while you still have a clean record,” said serw.

According to ftudor, the only real alternatives are to “conform quietly or move on to greener pastures (quietly).” In fact, ftudor goes on to say that opting for greener pastures might give the manager the last laugh, since “companies flying on ego do not fly very far.”

GHY recommended that this manager, “Hit the road as soon as you can," warning that the member shouldn’t “get sucked into working with an unethical manager.”

While acknowledging that any attempts to curb the activities of the CIO are most probably futile, some felt that the IT manager should try to do so for the sake of his personal integrity, his sanity, and the future of the company. To this end, many members suggested dispassionately and impersonally presenting the case to the most trustworthy person in upper management. SDbp wrote, “Present your case in terms of current IT direction and the negative impacts to the business (down time, restricted info flow, revenue or cost detriments, etc.). Be prepared to offer solutions. Stress your commitment to being part of the solution.“ In a slightly different vein, Tom_donaher said to report the whole situation to HR.

And finally, there was some creative optimism from regular contributor Oldfar, who wrote: “Bail now, or hang around with an objective to take his job…. [This second option] requires you to play the game by the rules in place. Rule one: Do not provide this guy with any justification to fire you. You have to follow every instruction to the letter, and document the same. Rule two: Make sure every technically unsound directive is maturely questioned and an alternative provided, with a document trail. Challenge any issue once only and then do as asked. Rule three: Look for opportunities to quietly raise questions about his directives with senior management. This must be done with no document trail. It can help if one of your management team echoes the concern on your behalf instead of you doing it yourself.”

So what did the IT manager in question actually do? Unfortunately, when upper management completely refused to take any action to curb the activities of the CIO, he too realized the hopelessness of the situation and found a position with another company.

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