October 21, 2005
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Many years ago, when I was still working in a corporate
IT department, there was one pernicious problem that seemed to have no
solution. Each day was a constant battle to balance the needs of the department
workers, our clients, with the mandates and requirements of corporate
IT. It is a fairly typical situation where clients want the opportunity
to test and implement every new piece of technology that comes along while
the IT department is doing its best to standardize and leverage the use
of technology throughout the entire operation so that departments and
divisions can communicate and work well together. In my particular case,
it was a simple matter of fact that the biggest issues I would face each
day were somehow related to this almost impossible balancing act. Unfortunately,
the passage of years has not made the problem magically disappear. It
is still with us today.
All to blame
There is no single cause of this out-of-balance situation. In fact, there
is enough blame to go around for everyone involved, no matter how large
the company. Both sides contribute to the problem. IT departments can
become draconian in their control over technology, putting standardization
and compliance before all else, even when it harms productivity. Clients
can become enamored with highly specialized hardware and software that
defies integration into the corporate workflow. In some cases, data can
become “trapped” by the system and rendered unusable elsewhere.
Nearly all these problems arise from a lack of understanding between these
competing elements. Neither one listens to, nor particularly cares about,
the needs of the other. They are focused on their own needs and how they
can best achieve them. Unfortunately, it is only by working together that
the company can thrive. Sure, many companies can limp along with IT departments
that conflict with their clients, but I don’t think these companies,
or their employees, can ever reach their true potential.
What IT can do?
So, as an IT staffer for an IT client, what are you to do? Regardless
of where you stand, you need to try and think of those around you and
how you might best calm the roiled waters.
As an IT staffer, you need to fulfill your role of standardization, maintenance
and control, but you also need to use every opportunity to embrace new
technologies that can bring productivity gains to your company and research
how they might integrate into your current systems. This is not to say
you immediately adopt every new technology, but you must remain aware
of change in the tech industry and the industry of your company. Ideally,
you should be introducing your clients to new technologies long before
they feel the need to develop their own solutions. If you are constantly
feeling “railroaded” by your clients, it is a clear sign that
your standardization/innovation scale is out of balance. Providing exceptional
service is the one sure way to keep your clients on your side.
What can clients do?
If you are a IT client in a large corporation, there are a couple of ways
of improving your relations with the IT department. Firstly, if you want
to bring a new technology into the company, you will find that a little
“selling” can go a long way. Once you have identified a useful
technology, you need to spell out the benefits to your own individual
department, but also to the company as a whole. Do this research early,
so that you have a good case when you finally try to bring IT into the
Even with a bit of selling, though, you are bound to experience a certain
amount of “pushback” from the IT department, even when the
benefits might seem clear to you and others. There are several reasons
for this. IT staffers might feel that this will increase their, already
heavy, workload. They might be embarrassed that they didn’t discover
or present this possible solution first. These human nature issues must
be taken into account and addressed or they will be taken out on the technology.
Create ways to partner with IT on new technologies. Make sure they are
on your side before you try to make the technology a critical part of
your business. Give them an opportunity to share the glory and they can
smooth your path dramatically.
Of course, sometimes you may be working with an IT department so rigid
that they will put roadblocks in your way. If you are faced with this
type of situation you need to make some difficult decisions. If you believe
you have the political power to go toe-to-toe with IT management, you
might be able to force your wishes. Whether you succeed or fail, though,
you will be dealing with the consequences for years to come. It is so
much easier to seek out some sort of common ground with the IT department,
in most cases. Sure, it might still be a bit difficult, but the benefits
to all will be worth it.
Balancing the needs of IT departments and their clients is never easy
and often fraught with animosity, but these obstacles can be overcome.
Cultivate understanding between these two groups at every opportunity.
Involve them in all technology decisions so that everyone, the IT department,
the clients, the company, benefits.