Five time-wasting tasks IT shouldn't be doing anymore

Bill Detwiler explores five tasks that no IT department should be wasting time on in the 21st century.

The beginning of each year is a perfect time to reevaluate your IT department's routine activities and look for time-wasting tasks that you can push to the wayside. While the specific tasks each IT department deems cut-worthy will vary, there are a few activities that nearly all IT departments should stop doing right now. They are:

  1. New hire office setups: I don't think it's a stretch to say that these days most new hires can hook up their own computer. I'm not saying IT shouldn't configure the machine, but 99 percent of the time there's no need to have an IT staffer visit the employee's desk, unpack the components, and connect the cables.
  2. Relocating computers for normal office moves: Again, today's average office worker should be able to handle this task. IT may need to ensure the new workspace has network connectivity and should provide instructions for moving equipment, but there's just no need for an IT staff member to break down an employee's machine, carry it to a new desk, and set it back up.
  3. Setting up phones: A colleague once told me of an old employer, that years ago required a telecom staff member to move any phones. Neither the users nor the IT staff were allowed to simply pick up a phone, move it from one desk to another, and plug it in. In today's world of merged telecom/IT departments and VoIP phone systems, restrictions like these are just silly. There's no reason for an IT staff member to physically move a phone--unless you're having the jack rewired.
  4. Replacing copier/printer/fax toner cartridges: While IT should still be involved in the deployment and network support for printers, copiers, and fax machines, there's no reason non-IT staff can't change a toner/ink cartridge. It's just not the difficult.
  5. Installing keyboards, mice, speakers, or monitors: As with printers, copiers, and fax machines, IT should be involved in and perhaps even control the purchasing and deployment of peripherals. But, there's no reason every keyboard or mouse replacement should require a desktop visit. The average office worker should be able to unplug their old mouse and connect a new one. At the same time, IT should be deploying peripherals that minimize installation problems.

Final word

Are there exceptions to these rules? Sure. It's much easier for IT departments that support tech-savvy users to relinquish these responsibilities. And, then there are corporate executives--who expect a desktop visit no matter what's wrong. But for the most part, IT personnel shouldn't be wasting time on tasks non-IT employees can handle. And if a problem does pop up during a new keyboard installation or office move, users can always call the help desk.

UPDATE, Feb. 22, 2011, 3:15PM EST: As I hoped, this article has sparked a vigorous debate. TechRepublic members from all walks of IT have shared their opinions, both for and against my list of time-wasting tasks. And, that's what I love about our audience--the willingness to join the conversation.

But reading through the discussion, I noticed an unexpected trend. Many members believe I'm suggesting that IT reduce the quality of their customer service in favor of efficiency. I am not. I am however, suggesting that the activities, which individuals and organizations equate with "good customer service", are changing. And, IT must adapt. As I wrote in the original article, there are always exceptions to the items on my list. There are times an IT staffer needs to physically install a new machine, deliver a keyboard, or configure a phone. I'm convinced however, that these cases can, and should be the exception not the rule.

Consider the consumer market. Apple, Dell, HP, and other computer vendors sell millions of machines each year to non-tech people who are able to successfully unpack these systems and connect the cables. Are there people who can't? Sure, and each vendor has mechanisms in place to meet these individuals' needs--some more successfully than others. But, the vast majority of computer buyers can handle these tasks, and that number is growing. So, why do so many IT pros think most of their users can't or shouldn't do the same thing at the workplace?

Some TR members have said that their users expect this type of service because it's not in their job description. True. But, that's probably because IT has always done it for them. Others have said that the user's time is better spent working on non-IT tasks. This is also true, but many are exaggerating the time required for most of the tasks on my list--at least on an individual basis. The average office worker can probably unpack their computer and reconnect the cables in under an hour. Unless they're doing the task every other week, it's probably not hurting productivity. Still other TR members have brought up specific environments where IT may need to take a more hands on approach, such as hospitals where every minute of a doctor or nurse's time is precocious and there is little room for equipment malfunctions. Again, this is true. But, does every office worker in the hospital require the same level of interaction? By not have to move every person in the PR department's computer, couldn't you spend more time with the machines in the ER?

I could write volumes about how giving up the tasks on my list and refocusing IT resources will benefit both the company and users. (I've posted many of them in the discussion thread.) Unfortunately, many TR members who have responded in the discussion will never agree. Why? Because, they still believe that moving boxes and plugging in cables is job security. It's not. I've seen plenty of organizations layoff IT staff and abruptly force such tasks onto users or high-level IT staff. Instead of risking such a grim fate, wouldn't a better approach be for IT to begin and control the transition, reallocate resources, and retrain staff when necessary?