The term glass house refers to centralized computing in a company. It originated from the glass windows that, beginning in the 1950s, corporations began to build into their large central computer rooms to let visitors peer in on their impressive rows of mainframes, storage device cabinets, and other hardware.
But glass house has another connotation: a highly centralized, isolated, and autonomous IT department that excludes end users from active participation and that performs strange technical feats no one understands or dares to ask about.
With IT's move into a service-oriented model, much of this culture has dissipated—but IT professionals still have a tendency to exhibit behaviors that conjure up the old glass house. If you want great relationships with your end users, consider eliminating these items from your daily IT practice.
1: Don't lose your cool
Today more than ever, IT is transforming itself into a service culture. This means treating users as if they were customers. It also means that the customer (user) is always right—even when he or she isn't. This can be a difficult reality to accept, given the fact that some users are genuinely hard to deal with. The mark of a truly polished IT professional is the ability to remain calm, collected, and composed in the most trying of circumstances, keeping the focus on the project and not on personalities..
2: Don't fail to set limits and expectations on projects
Unless firm project deliverables and deadlines are agreed to by everyone, projects are susceptible to getting expanded with user enhancements while the projects are in progress. This can jeopardize the quality and timeliness of projects. If projects then fail because of quality or timeliness issues, it's always IT that gets the blame. No one remembers the many user enhancements that were added along the way.
Don't let this enhancement creep happen without pointing out the impact on project completion dates and deliverables. Instead, insist on negotiating new deadlines with the end users. An alternate approach is to suggest completion of the original project, with a follow-up phase that brings in the newly requested enhancements.
3: Don't be arrogant or condescending
End users often have ideas of their own when it comes to applications and technology—and you're going to hear them. When this happens, it is important to avoid coming across as arrogant or condescending. Welcome and listen to the suggestions in the interest of open communications. Sometimes these suggestions can actually be breakthroughs. In other cases, their suggestions won't work. In that event, just explain alternative approaches to users clearly and in plain English to help them see the benefits.
4: Don't use excessive technical jargon
No university ever gave a degree in buzzwords, possibly because highly technical jargon does little to build healthy relationships with end users. In fact, users foten get frustrated when they try to communicate with IT. Worse yet, they can start thinking that you're trying to impress them with what you know instead of helping them to address a business problem.
5: Don't make decisions without soliciting input
The end users for whom an IT project or service is being performed should be directly involved in the decision making. There will be internal elements, like system integration, that IT can and should take care of on its own. But if the project or service directly touches the end user (such as an application interface, app features and functions, a new system, or compliance and data retention policies) the end user should always be involved and IT should never make decisions on its own.
6: Don't deliver poor training
Training and handoffs of new applications are areas where IT can really shine with end users. If training is done well on these new apps, the users will be immediately functional with the apps and the business will see results sooner. The IT help desk will also be less busy. Great training services can be a user differentiator for IT, which historically has skimped on training users, opting instead to simply throw apps over the wall so new projects can be started.
7: Don't be inaccessible
When users need IT support, IT should be reachable. It's not acceptable to delay communications for hours or even days in today's service culture.
8: Don't go around users
If end users prove to be inaccessible or remiss in meeting their own project commitments, discuss it directly with them or with their managers—and demand accountability. You don't want to work around uncooperative users. The risk is that you get frustrated and unilaterally build them a system that they ultimately don't want.
9: Don't adopt a back-burner attitude toward user requests
Many end users are afraid that once they turn in an IT service request, it falls into a black hole. They don't think they'll ever hear from IT. This can easily happen, as most IT departments spend more than 50% of their time on maintenance, trying to manage huge request backlogs. But even if you can't get to a request in a timely manner, make it a practice to regularly communicate with your end users. Great communications relieves anxiety and can be half the battle in getting these requests addressed.
10: Don't show favoritism
IT works with every user and business unit in the company. It is absolutely imperative that the IT staff shows equal treatment across the board, without demonstrating favoritism.
What additional advice do you have regarding the best way to support your users in a service-oriented culture? Share your recommendations with fellow TechRepublic members.
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 of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturing company in the semiconductor industry. Mary is a keynote speaker and has more than 1,000 articles, research studies, and technology publications in print.