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The Un-Marketing of IT Wed 15 Oct 08

Dont_use_your_laptop_while_eishierIt is generally accepted that CIOs need to "market" information technology inside a corporation to get other executives and employees to think of it as a strategic area of operations and not just a cost center.

What concerns me is that these marketing efforts may be undermined by efforts to "un-market" information technology. IT seems to be the only area of an organization that I can think of that actively discourages people from using its "product" even if they use it properly. Tobacco, liquor and gambling all have warnings to discourage use, but even they don't seem to take it as far as IT. I don't imagine any of us ever thought of IT as a "vice." Some examples:

  • We promote the use of e-mail but then limit the amount of inbox storage or the size of files that can be attached to e-mails.
  • We tout the Internet as a data goldmine and then we block people from visiting so-called non-business sites. Sometimes it is human resources pushing this, but sometimes it is IT.
  • We provide people with a PC as a tool to make their job easier but lock it down so they can't add programs or even choose their own wallpaper.
  • We warn people of the dire consequences of not using the application properly, threatening them with legal action every time they use the application or start their PC.

The warning is especially aggravating as it serves no real purpose. Someone intent on using our systems for illegal purposes isn't going to be intimidated by those warnings. The warnings only insult the honest user and promote an image of the "IT Police." What's the point of that?

We don't threaten our customers with legal action if they don't use our Web site properly. Wal-Mart doesn't have the greeter threaten every customer when they walk in with jail time if they shoplift. Why treat your internal customers differently, especially if the only outcome is ill will?

Please, please, please don't use the lame of excuse of "the company lawyer said I had to do it." Company lawyers don't make decisions--they only make recommendations. It is our job as managers to consider recommendations and to make the right decision.

I recognize that we do these things with the best intentions. Sometimes we do it to protect the company or the system; sometimes to reduce costs or sometimes to make our service more efficient. I'm not trying to debate whether we should do these things but rather that we think very hard about the message we are sending when, and how, we mitigate the fallout.

When we promote and deliver technology, we also promote a level of expectation about how people can use it. When we cut back on what we deliver, such as limiting mailbox size, it comes across as not making good on our promises. People are disappointed and feel misled. What can we do to mitigate the consequences? A few suggestions:

  • Do we explain why we have to limit the use of technology? People may not like the answer but they may be more accepting of it they understand the reason.
  • Do we train people in alternative ways to use IT? If, for example, we limit the size of everyone's inbox, do we train people on how to best utilize the space they have?
  • Do we provide a responsive support structure? If a site is blocked as "non-business" and it turns out that it shouldn't be blocked, do we have the support structure in place to unblock it quickly? Or do we handle it as a routine trouble ticket and get around to resolving it in a few days?

After all, part of our marketing should be to promote IT as a service organization.

How do you think we can avoid the un-marketing of IT?

In an effort to get your feedback on this question I've created a quick survey in conjunction with Forbes.com.  I'd love to hear what you think.  Please visit this story on Forbes.com to take the survey (it is a very short one).  Thanks.

This article is also posted on Forbes.com.  Feel free to join in the discussion either on this site or at Forbes.com

"Don't use your laptop while…" photo by Eisher

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» The Un-Marketing of IT - The Survey Results from Beyond Blinking Lights and Acronyms
In my last post, I discussed the issue of IT restricting the use of the very technology we provide and how this is received by our user community. I suggested that the limits we impose has an un-marketing effect that [Read More]

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