How to improve the perception of IT departments.
Brighton, Michigan made the headlines not too long ago when the city council passed an ordinance that you could be ticketed and fined for annoying someone. I don't intend to get into specifics of what's going on in Brighton, but I couldn't help but think any information technology folks passing through Brighton might want to be very careful, given our reputation. This reputation of annoying people with our indifference, poor customer service and overbearing policies and standards may not be accurate or deserved, but it persists.
Because it persists perhaps we should do something to counteract it. Why is this so important? Think back to your childhood. You're in the back seat of the family car on the way home from an outing with your parents and your brother or sister. It's been a great day of fun, laughter and fellowship. And then your brother pokes you in the arm. No big deal. He does it again and you give him a dirty look. He pokes you a third time and you yell, "Quit it!" He doesn't and mayhem breaks out until dad bellows, "Don't you make me stop this car!" That's what set the tone for the day--not all the good things but being annoyed with your brother.
IT departments can be similarly annoying and leave a bad impression. All those great things we've done are quickly undone as we "poke" our users every time they use the system or ask for help or try to do something with their PC.
Perhaps we should make a concerted effort to address these IT annoyances and remove them. But that's easier said than done. Some irritating IT issues can be fixed easily, while other issues are harder to fix. And some things shouldn't be fixed at all. Some examples:
--Easy to fix: Broadcasting e-mails to everyone, even if it doesn't apply to everyone. For example, if the server for the customer relationship management application will be down for maintenance, you broadcast an e-mail to everyone in the company rather than just the CRM users. Or perhaps you send out notices with cryptic techno-speak that non-IT people find incomprehensible.
--Hard to fix: People hate having to sign on individually to every system or program they use. A single sign-on system is a great solution but not one that can be quickly or inexpensively implemented. You may have a hard time getting it approved in today's economic climate.
--Shouldn't or cannot be fixed: The need to authenticate via sign-on to the network and e-mail retention policies can be annoying to users but are very necessary things that cannot or should not be "fixed."
So where do we start? Let's start by asking people what our IT department does that annoys our users. Formally ask people in surveys, e-mail or some other means what things IT does that bugs them. Promise to address each of these issues as an incentive to get people to respond. If you get a lot of responses--and don't be surprised if you do--rank them by which ones showed up the most often. Then start addressing each item, starting with the most annoying.
The key is to address each issue, but this doesn't necessarily mean eliminating the annoyance. It means that we should be upfront and explain why we need to do certain things and whether we can or should make them less annoying.
IT annoyances that shouldn't or can't be fixed are perhaps the easiest to address. For these, all you can do is communicate why these annoying issues have been deliberately implemented. If people understand the underlying reason, they may be more accepting of the issue. Have no doubt, they won't be happy with your answer, but they just might be more understanding, or at least, have a better perception of IT.
IT annoyances that are hard to fix may require getting more funding or resources approved to make changes. It will require effort from management, IT and users. Get your users involved and committed to support getting resources budgeted or freed up. The survey results can also be useful in demonstrating the need for change. With a little help, you can make progress.
IT annoyances that are easy to fix may require the most work simply because they are the most common. Use your survey results to rank them and attack them in that order. Given that resources are probably scarce, allocate a certain amount of time each month for these issues and people will notice and appreciate the progress.
We would like to think that people form their opinion about IT as a result of all the good things we do and the big projects we deliver, and they do. But they also form their opinion based upon their daily interaction with IT. This is important because the opinion of our most frequent users also feeds and helps form the opinion of upper management, the people that control our budgets. Keep that in mind before dismissing little annoyances as trivial.
How do you address the things people find annoying about IT? Please add your thoughts in the Comments section.
This article is also posted on Forbes.com. Feel free to join in the discussion either on this site or at Forbes.com
"annoyance" photo by in retrospect
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