Ending the War of Words
Two stories I read in different publications demonstrate that a gap still exists between IT and business units and users within the enterprise. Stupid Users Are So Stupid was posted March 31st by Thomas Wailgum on the CIO website. I found The Willful Ignorance of Business Users on the Real Story Group Blog on April 8th. I think we all know how the arguments play out. On one side, IT knows best about all things computer, and woe to anyone who challenges their hegemony. Wailgum writes about the unflattering comments he received from readers who wanted a Mac for work. "Dozens of CIO.com readers and those who read the article via digg.com commented that I was nothing more than another stupid user: a whiny bitch, a wanker, an idiot. (Their words.)" It mattered not to these readers that they didn't have to support his laptop or do his job. Regli writes about the flip side, "When content technology implementations go wrong, it's often blamed on a gap of understanding on the part of IT as to what the business really needs. Sometimes that's accurate. But just as often I find a gap of understanding on the part of business users about how content technologies work, what they can accomplish, what's realistic." She's writing about a specific application category, but I believe her point applies more broadly. As long ago as 1990, I remember having a technology request denied by accounting and IT over platform and first-cost issues. They punished my reluctance to go along with the expert recommendation by rewarding my department's place in line for a technology refresh to another group. I got the last laugh, though, as the cheaper solution proved unsuited to the task at hand, and I still chuckle when I think of the workarounds needed to make the new equipment work. This fight often plays out over the issue of Mac vs. PC, and the features of newer Macs and iPhone seems only to have created more friction. Users resent being told how to do their work, and IT rightly worries about providing support for multiple platforms, security issues, and cost. I'm sure help desks every where have an abundance of tickets that prove that computers should only be issued on as needed basis and even then, only after the user has passed a stringent certification exam. Regli writes, "Even if you're 'not technical,' a fundamental understanding of how the technology you use every day really works will help you be a better team member, and allow you to more clearly articulate what you want from the system." I can see IT folks everywhere nodding in agreement. Yet, they have much more trouble seeing how their intransigence breeds civil disobedience in technology. Few sales, marketing, engineering, management, or other staff positions are judged on IT IQ. Rather, these folks are judged by their ability to meet sales, profitability, or other goals, and the IT asset is just a tool. If the standard product doesn't work, they will use other tools to achieve these goals, which just makes IT's problems worse. Wailgum and Regli both wrote about IT's relationship with users but don't we see the same phenomenon play out across enterprises, except on a larger scale? Business units develop unauthorized data centers that operate outside the reach of IT because they perceive IT to be a barrier to achieving goals. And these data centers tend to cause IT headaches that ripple throughout the organization. Of course, they are less secure but also represent waste of enterprise resources, plus energy. IT can reduce its problems by focusing more on meeting demands for tools that work and not substituting its own judgment about what works and what doesn't. I heard one user complain that IT at his company had determined that a certain model phone met all legitimate business requirements. The user noted that the phone failed to connect to the internet, take pictures or movies, or support document types essential to his job. But IT deserves support too. Business unit incentives must align with overall corporate goals. It's one thing for an end user to network an unauthorized device, but it is significantly harder to create a "shadow" data center without funding. Think of all the financial controls that must be missing or bypassed merely to purchase the equipment or connect the system. The threat of Sarbanes-Oxley violation should be enough to make a C-level execs blood run cold. It might be a start if we could just stop the name calling.