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Home > Audio, Podcast, Show > Archive: Balancing Act – October 21, 2005

Archive: Balancing Act – October 21, 2005

November 25th, 2008

Balancing the needs of your IT department and your internal customers is paramount

(This podcast is pulled “from the archives” and presented here as a service to more recent listeners — Douglas)

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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 loop.

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.

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