I do a lot of consulting, so I get to see all kind of good things going on in many organizations. But, I also get to see a lot of not-so-good things going on in the same organizations. At a recent engagement, I saw an example of the latter going on. This was a case of an as-yet-unresolved (at that time) issue with a server. While the issue was certainly frustrating for the user, I was somewhat dismayed at the confrontational nature of the situation and it made me take a hard look at the relationship that IT has with its user base.
In many ways and in many places, IT remains seen as simply a group of "order takers" serving the whims of everyone else in the organization. As a service organization, responding to user needs and requests is, of course, a critical part of the daily work. But, too often, the phrase "IT is a service organization" is twisted to mean "IT should blindly follow orders from any user at any time." I have, unfortunately, seen this translation take place; it was said to my face when I questioned a particular request. If left unchecked, it doesn't do either the company or the IT department any good in the long run.
Part of this problem arises because of the mysterious nature of the IT department. For many, IT is a black box. A request goes in and, eventually, something comes out, which hopefully resembles a solution to the original request. I would be remiss if I didn't say that, yes, part of the problem is that certain users in the user base that feel that IT is there to serve their needs and only their needs.
I believe that what people have forgotten is that IT exists to support the goals of the company. For most companies, the number one goal is ensuring that customers-that is, customers of the company itself; I never refer to users as IT's "customers" as I believe it implies an unnecessary separation between IT and the rest of the company-are happy and that sales are made.
If there is an IT problem that is affecting customer satisfaction, now is not the time for a non-IT company employee to start blaming IT for systems failures without actively assisting in resolution. Too often, users will submit trouble tickets that read "The system is slow" or "the Internet is down" or "I got an error message when I logged in. Can you fix it?". These same users sometimes get frustrated when there is a request for additional information that will aid in the troubleshooting efforts.
Again, although I understand the frustration, particularly when a customer is involved, users need to bear in mind that everyone in the company is there to serve the needs of customers. By partnering with and helping aid in the resolution of a particular issue an employee can help IT best determine a course of action. Rarely, if ever, does IT spend time trying to make life more difficult for users. Rather, it just takes precious time to discover the root cause and then take corrective action. With assistance from a user that sees the systems in a different light every day, the initial root cause determination can take place much faster.
Find and embrace
There are some users who truly understand their role in relation to IT. These are the ones that are willing to chip in as a part of a true team effort to resolve a situation. They don't see IT as a bunch of "electronic janitors" but rather as a necessary part of the team that supports customers. These are people that the CIO should seek out and work with as time goes on. Over time, these are people that can develop into IT liaisons, this becoming the conduits by which IT communicates with and supports unit needs throughout the organization.
I see three action items here:
- Don't just be an order taking department. Sometimes, IT can't or shouldn't do what a user requests. It could be that a request is illegal, against policy or simply the wrong solution. IT should be a respected partner in the organization. This will require IT to do something, too. If you don't already, learn to talk about the business in non-technical terms and make the staff do the same. You will be much more approachable. This is another case for good governance.
- Embrace those users that do cooperate. By taking a team-minded approach, the user and IT will be a formidable force to be reckoned with and productivity will increase. Help these people learn the technology as best they can so that they can advocate on your behalf and help others understand that IT s there as a partner, not an enemy.
Make sure that IT staff members are committed to doing everything possible to help users through their issues. If IT staff aren't committed, it will be apparent.
Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive with CampusWorks, Inc. Scott is available for consulting, writing, and speaking engagements and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.