IT and its end users are at odds. This is most clearly illustrated by the growing trend of “Shadow IT”. Groups within Businesses routinely sidestep their own internal IT in favor of third party providers such as Amazon Web Services, Google, and Rackspace. And while its true that these providers operate on a scale most internal IT departments can’t compete with, this is often done with little or no consultation from IT.
It seems that within a few decades, IT has gone from having the complete trust of its user base (wielding almost magical abilities), to an over complicated control that needs to be circumvented. Ask a group of users what they think of IT and you will likely hear terms like: bloated, over-complicated, expensive, and unhelpful.
While it is true that the average user is much more tech savvy these days and that they also have very high expectations for technology, this is not the sole reason for the prevalence of the “Shadow IT” trend. The real problem is that there is a complete a lack of trust between end users and IT.
Let’s face it, even if using a third party service provider is the right move; arriving at this decision should be a collaborative effort between the users and IT. This ensures that the solution will have the compliance, efficiency, and cost that IT is responsible for providing to the Business. But when users don’t trust IT and IT has absolutely no process for engaging end users to have this conversation, that collaboration is nearly impossible.
So how do we repair the broken trust and help our users to see IT as an ally? The first step is to examine our attitude toward our users.
How do you think of your “users”?
It has been noted many times that there are only two industries that refer to their customers as “users”: IT and illegal drugs. When you think about it – at some point both of them need a fix! (ba-dum-bump) Thank you! I’ll be here all week!
Outside of IT, “user” is a loaded word implying substance abuse and dependency. But inside of IT, it doesn’t have any of these negative implications right? Wrong. We may think that the word “user” takes on an elevated meaning in IT, but sadly “users” are often treated like the crime-perpetrating addict on “Law & Order”. Every move they make is suspicious and their version of the “facts” is hazy at best.
So is the problem the word “user”? Hardly. “User” has been a part of IT for decades. Personally, I first remember hearing the term in the movie “Tron” from the early 80’s. “That’s Tron. He fights for the Users.”
To Tron, a “user” was a high ideal. He was willing to lay down his little binary life for the good of the user. The audience watching at that time was equally enchanted. IT was still very much a new, mysterious, and miraculous concept. So the idea of being a “user” was exciting and alluring for them as well.
But today, the term “user” seems to have taken on the connotations of consumerism. Since technology has become a commodity, “user” is used almost interchangeably with what retail references as “the consumer”. Wikipedia defines a consumer as: “a person or group of people, who are the final users of products or services. The consumer’s use is final in the sense that the product is usually not improved by the use.”
This way of thinking has no place in an IT department within a Business. If we imagine our users as a group of people who’s only value is “using” and “consuming”, then we have lost sight of our relative importance. The user isn’t a bottomless chasm, just binging on the delightful bounty of technology or services we provide; the “user” is the REASON that the technology, service, or offering exists in the first place!
Open up the lines of communication!
The second step in helping our user base see IT as an ally is to listen! In a Business, Technology is a Service not a Commodity. This means the technical solutions we provide don’t END with delivery. A Technology Service is a continuous loop that depends on feedback from the user in order to continue its evolution and relevance.
So we need to understand our user’s needs as well as their impressions of the services they are receiving. And no, emailing sterile surveys that no one wants to fill out doesn’t cut it. Instead, focus on enablement, training, and adaptations for your user base. How would your users respond differently if you established a “User Advocacy Group” for each of your top ten Services? If these groups listened, understood the user’s needs, helped with training, collected their feedback and put a plan together to act on it, do you think they would be so quick to pull out the corporate card and order a Service on their own? Or would they go to IT and ask for advice?
We need to remember that these are real people trying to do their jobs and they are relying on IT to help them. Let’s face it, even if we are consultants, technologists, or service providers; with the ubiquity of Technology, we are all “users” at some point. How frustrating is it when a piece of technology we rely on doesn’t work and we can’t figure out why? This intense frustration can be what our users feel when they reach out to IT for help.
So examine how you think of your end users and well you are communicating with them. After all, how you perceive your users will directly affect the quality of service you provide them. And the quality of service users receive directly effects their perception of IT.