CXO

10 things to help you bridge the IT/end user divide

As long as there have been IT departments and end users, there have been misunderstandings and miscues between the two groups. Here are some ways to close the gap and foster better relationships.

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Image: iStockphoto.com/gheo
 Technology is constantly changing. But the fundamental stumbling blocks for IT never seem to change at all. One of the perennial hurdles is establishing great working relationships with end users.

An IT end user cartoon from the 1980s shows end users and IT set in combat lines and shooting at each other from behind barbed wire barricades. Today's endorsement of more collaborative approaches to application development is an attempt to get away from adversarial relationships — but the inevitable stress points between IT and end users are still there. Often, this is because end users and IT see systems in different ways.

An end user wants a simple online app where users can chat or use voicemail. IT sees backend integration work, backup, security, device compatibility, and a host of other "invisible" functions that must also be built to accommodate the app. Naturally, timelines and expectations will differ, depending upon which side of the end user/IT divide you sit on.

Despite these historical challenges, however, there are steps IT professionals can take to facilitate productive and cooperative work with end users. Here are 10 of them.

1: Get to know the business

Understanding the business from the business (and not the IT) point of view equips IT professionals with empathy for the end users they work with, along with first-hand knowledge of business pain points. Such knowledge enables IT developers to build more business-friendly applications.

2: Form alliances with key end users in the business

Most business users are receptive to forming active and ongoing working relationships with IT that include sharing the pain points on both the IT and the business sides of app development. In many cases, these business users provide key leadership (and also expectation management) on the business side of technology. IT departments most successful in application development and deployment nurture and maintain these end user alliances as part of their business strategy.

3: Listen

Business users commonly complain that IT doesn't "listen" to what they want, and that instead, IT designs what it thinks they should have. A growing number of IT departments are trying to change this perception by stressing a "service culture" in their organizations. The bottom line for application developers aspiring to be great is that they should listen and be responsive to their internal customers (i.e., end users). If there is a better way to design an application or a workflow, demonstrate it to end users — but always work for the best solution to meet the requirements of users, who knows their business best.

4: Don't be arrogant

End users are fascinated by technology, but they don't understand it well. This sets the stage for meetings with IT that soon get packed with technology jargon and acronyms those end users don't understand. The jargon is frustrating for end users, and out of this begins to emerge a perception among them that IT'ers are arrogant and like to talk down to them. By leaving jargon out of conversations with end users and sticking to the business and the purpose of an app, IT professionals improve their collaborative skills and their ability to forge strong working relationships with end users in the business.

5: Understand the business process behind the app

All too often, IT goes away with an app to build without understanding the business workflow that the app fits into and how the app will contribute to that workflow. To gain a better understanding of the business, application developers should spend time with end users in their departments actually observing and (if practical) participating in business operations and workflows. The experience gives IT'ers a more realistic and hands-on concept of the business — and of the role an app is expected to play.

6: Take a business course

A surprising number of IT'ers have never taken a business course, even though today's college curricula stress it more. Taking a business course enables IT pros to better understand how businesses are run and how technology can affect business performance.

7: Learn how to read the corporate financials

Early in my IT career, I was a junior employee at a company where the CEO would take all of the employees through the company financial statements each month. He wanted us to understand how the business was doing. As my business knowledge grew, I began to more fully appreciate how important it was to grasp the financials, which are actually the lifeblood of the business. This furthered my business acumen and clued me in on how IT could best deliver business value.

8: Be service-oriented

Those business analysts and application developers who succeed best with the end business are individuals who understand the value of the business and the people who work in it. They treat end users like customers and have a service orientation.

9: Follow up!

If you're going to be service-oriented, it's not enough to drop an app on someone's desktop or mobile and then wash your hands of it. Check in regularly with end users after app deployment to see how the app is working for them and whether there are any problems. Also ensure that end-user training on the new app is part of your application deployment.

10: Look for ways to bring instant pain relief

Today, early app deploy and test techniques and/or pilot testing of app prototypes are ways to either immediately eliminate end-user pain points with technology or to show end users that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Work is difficult enough these days. Application developers can become instant rock stars in the eyes of their end users if they can design something really valuable that brings pain relief to longstanding problems that the business has not unable to solve.

Other advice?

What strategies have you used to help improve the relationship between IT and end users? Share your suggestions with fellow TechRepublic members.

 



About

Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President o...

23 comments
waltersokyrko
waltersokyrko

As an IT person who gets business, (led a number of business transformation projects with large IT components) I am tired of people blaming IT. Lack of communications between 2 units of one organization is the fault of both units. Most IT units understand the processes of other business units better than other business units understand IT processes. Instant pain relief does not exist. There is no magic, only hard work.

In one successful business transformation project, 2 highly knowledgeable business people were assigned to the IT project 100% for 2 years.

In an unsuccessful business transformation project, I explained to the business manager that the project would require: one business person assigned to the project 100% for the duration of the project; X amount of time from people reporting to him to document processes and to provide requirements; Y amount of time from people reporting to him to assist in transferring data; Z amount of time from people reporting to him to train on new system; his time to convince executives to fund the project. The result: he went away and never came back; his business unit continued to use inefficient processes. He probably told his peers that IT refused his request.

JimDantin
JimDantin

I'm not sure if I should be encouraged that these ideas are still being considered, or depressed that these problems still exist!


I published a similar article in 2002! I had just suffered through implementation of a manufacturing information system that started as a production division project, but then was taken over (rather unsuccessfully) by corporate IT. 


The article, "Bridging the IT/shop floor divide" was for Intech, a publication of ISA, the International Society of Automation. The text of the article is still available online at 

http://www.isa.org/InTechTemplate.cfm?Section=Communities2&template=/TaggedPage/DetailDisplay.cfm&ContentID=14858


I'm retired (mostly) now, but I frequently come across the same issues still causing problems in almost every business. It is depressing!
Ramon Soto
Ramon Soto

This article has nothing to do with CEOs, CFOs, etc., is the relationship between IT and users. IT needs to be more understanding and tolerant with users. Some people just can not handle public, users, customers.

Ramon Soto
Ramon Soto

Most people out there don't know, understand technology so they rely on the IT department for anything; I personally believe in what this article is. IT people need to learn how to be more tolerant with users and if an IT person can not handle an user, then do a carrier change.

bind235
bind235

The most effective method of providing business with the IT tools they need is to have key IT staff report to the business organization not to the IT organization.  I've been imbedded in my business org for years and know everyone, what they do and what they need.  Because of this I am able to effectively represent their needs to the IT organization.  All 10 of Mary's points are automatically covered. 

Jim Johnson
Jim Johnson

Point # 11 - find a person who LIKES conversing with non-IT folks, is empathetic with work-flow needs (can see the system from an end-user perspective) and is willing to be an ambassador.

Jim Johnson
Jim Johnson

Point # 11 - find a person who LIKES conversing with non-IT folks, is empathetic with work-flow needs (can see the system from an end-user perspective) and is willing to be an ambassador.

vdugan
vdugan

This is what a Business Analyst does.  Not all developers/engineers have the inclination to worry about figuring out all the buisness implications, so having a Business Analyst on the team means there is someone responsible for maintaining the business relationship and ensuring what is developed meets the business needs.  Refer to http://www.iiba.org/ for more informaiton.

Dave Man
Dave Man

Could the opposite also be true for business users? To take a basic web development class or basic computer class? So often I run into design requirements that could more easily be communicated if the Business Analyst or Project Manager understood the basics of computer programming. 

simonschilder
simonschilder

Good article.

To me, IT in a business (non-IT) company shouldn't forget we are there to support the business. We have a job because our users use our products and we should make sure they function as flawless as possible.


What also helps to bridge the gap is not to live on an (IT) island. Show your face on the workfloor, talk to your end users, show interest and maybe we learn something too :)


the_tech_mule
the_tech_mule

I agree with all of these. I've worked with many IT people that don't really understand these fundamental concepts and would often berate the users (sometimes in front of them) for not "getting it." IT exists to serve the business not the other way around.

toadforce
toadforce

One thing we did recently as an IT section was to have an open morning where users came (down) to the IT area and looked at various displays we had put up, chatted to us and asked questions and even got involved in a couple of quizzes with prizes. We had a twitter feed and Skype account going for remote offices and an on-line questionnaire for feedback on our services. People have commented since on how good it was and how they didn't realise how much was done behind the scenes.

maj37
maj37

Nothing new here, but I suppose some of the younger folks will think it is all very new.

I always wonder though do the business journals ever tell the business users 10 ways to get along with their IT teams?

If we would all, both sides, follow #3 then we could all get along and we wouldn't need the other 9.  Ex.  why do I need to know how the business works, that is their job and I will NEVER know it as well as they do because they live it every day. 

Rodrigo Mojica
Rodrigo Mojica

Truth of the matter is that all business need of IT to survive, but unfortunately often times the IT teams are limited and controlled by people (CEO's, CFO's, even CTO's) and others who are out of touch or totally clueless about technology, it's capabilities and limitations.

Joshua Morden
Joshua Morden

In addition, the end users should perhaps make an effort to learn some of the basics for why different things need to be done for IT related things. This might help them understand why things take so long to complete for IT pros. I'd rather have the IT department spend extra time to make sure everything is good to go rather than release something too soon and then have users complaining about other problems down the road.

TheProfessorDan
TheProfessorDan

I think that IT tends to forget that our existence is centered around our end users or customers. We are here to enhance the process for our end users. Often times we forget that the end user is really our customer and we ditch our customer service skills.

hirussellsmith
hirussellsmith

Mutual understanding plays vital role to bridge the gap between end-user and support team. With patience, user can resolve their problem in convenient way.

JimDantin
JimDantin

@bind235  You hit the core of the problem - IT staff should be in the business organization!

Dave Man
Dave Man

@the_tech_mule  How many times have you also seen a business users berate the IT department for things publicly? I think the suggestions should apply to both sides of the house. We are all working towards a common goal.  

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