The Case for Communicating with IT

Ben Greiner -

THE ROLE OF IT

How many of you view the role of IT as that of a technician “fixing” a computer? This view is common because it’s the simplest concept to understand. Considering Apple devices are really easy to use and hardware issues are relatively rare, fixing what breaks is no longer the primary concern for most organizations.

The larger, more complex, and value-driven role of IT is to provide structure.

A simple lack of structure surrounding technology can consume expensive business hours and leave people feeling frustrated. Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are essential to delivering what is known as a High Reliability IT Organization. Few organizations, however, have anything like this in place. When it comes to planning, purchasing, implementing and supporting the use of technology, lacking defined processes can result in a number of seemingly small, but expensive failures. Examples include unnecessary downtime, workflow inefficiencies, under-researched solutions that are implemented then abandoned, and financial losses related to security leaks or attacks on the organization.

“Change Management” and “Device Lifecycle Management” are two of the many concepts within the IT industry that focus on addressing these issues. While the details are often debated, it’s safe to say that the role of IT is to mitigate risk while enabling the organization to drive business forward. Even if one maintains the antiquated view that IT’s role is just to keep the lights on, everyone will agree that the valuable goals of reducing downtime, reducing waste and protecting the organization are all rooted in reducing risk. The challenge becomes how does an organization limit risk while meeting everyone's needs?

THE CHALLENGES

Over the past 18 years, my company has worked with businesses of all sizes. It’s become clear to us that too many organizations inhibit their IT teams from delivering the services people want. This is because the desire of the individual to do as they wish with technology is in direct conflict with the need for IT to enforce policies to mitigate risk. This seems especially prominent within the easy-to-use Apple market, although the core problem is universal.

The balance between the employee's demand for ease-of-access and IT's need to maintain industry-standard security practices has been a central debate for many years. While IT teams have historically been the ones in control of the ecosystem, the appeal of more humanistic technology practices is growing.

“Shadow IT” and the“Consumerization of IT” are rising to overthrow the traditional, strong-armed tactics that stifle individual productivity and lead to a stereotypically adversarial relationship between IT and the people they serve. Overthrowing old-school IT dogmas is a movement I support — if for no other reason than it promotes the adoption of Apple devices in Windows organizations. The transfer of power from IT to individuals, however, is not the end solution. What everyone really wants (even if they don’t realize it) is a solution that meets the needs of both sides. Individuals simply want technology to work so they can perform their job. IT wants the same thing, while delivering on their responsibility to protect and support the organization. The challenge is that most individuals view technology within the confines of their own space and are unaware of the broader requirements of the organization. At the same time, most IT teams ignore the needs of the individual, keeping their focus on the environment and ecosystem as a whole, and never fully explain the reasons for their actions.

One example of where individuals and IT teams come into conflict is passwords. We all have so many passwords! It can feel overwhelming, confusing and frustrating to deal with them. The sharp increase in the number of passwords we must remember, their complexity, and forced password changes has resulted in a decrease in productivity for everyone involved. It’s not uncommon for individuals to feel that passwords are managed and controlled by IT. In contrast, IT feels that passwords are something the individual could (and should) manage on their own. The result is IT being burdened with a problem they believe the individual should “own”, while individuals feel this is a problem IT should solve. Until this disconnect is reconciled the challenges and frustrations surrounding passwords will continue with no resolution from either side.

COMMUNICATE AND COOPERATE

Put simply, the solution to finding a solid middle ground is deeply rooted in communication and cooperation. Sounds simple, but we all know that if someone can avoid talking with IT (even other IT team members), then they will. In addition, IT teams have a reputation for being terrible at communicating — about anything. Overcoming the negativity individuals have toward IT and improving upon IT delivery models is something that appeals to a lot of organizations. To accomplish this people need to actively work towards building very strong relationships.

Remember I mentioned that SOPs are essential to delivering a high-reliability IT organization? A good IT team is good at building structure and processes. This is what makes them successful and allows them to deliver services that continuously delivers value to the business. Of course, simply enforcing SOPs is not nearly enough. This practice of simple enforcement is what IT has tried to accomplish for decades, resulting in a culture where so many people despise IT. How can organizations deliver SOPs that will benefit the organization and the individuals?

I believe that focusing on communication, cooperation and listening (on both sides) is the answer.

Don’t just give it lip service. Don’t simply agree that this is a good idea and assign the task to the next intern. Make it a priority for your organization. Make it a part of your culture. The commitment and type of change I’m suggesting can only come “from the top”. Owners, partners, C-level — whatever the titles — the leaders at the top must have buy-in and participate in the process.

You’ve heard it all before in different areas of your life. If you want to make a change, it’s up to you to get involved. Nobody is going to do it for you. This is the situation we see today with IT services (in-house and outsourced) and I firmly believe that motivated IT teams can make a difference. They really want to help your business turn technology into a strategic advantage within your industry. Never forget that they can’t do it without your help. Reach out to them and start building bridges of communication. It won’t be a one-time conversation. It will take time and dedication. Technology is easy. Communication is difficult. However, the results will be worth it. Please share with me what works and what doesn’t in your organization. We can all learn from each other. Good luck!

 

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