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« Theory of Constraints in public education | Main | Caught in the middle of wanting everything »

October 22, 2005



Acknowledging the worth of many of the observations in respect to improving IT/Non-IT relations, after 20 years in IT, I think the crux of it is in the perceptive observation:

"there is something strange about how non-technical people view IT problems: they often blame themselves. If you use a non-IT product and it doesn’t work effectively, you blame the product. On numerous occasions, however, I’ve heard people having trouble with software say things like, “I must be stupid - I can’t get it to do what I want it to do.” Bizarre phenomenon"

Yes it is a phenomenon, and as such it is worth a closer look. Where does this attitude come from, how is it maintained (because it is persistent and very widespread), and what are the implications of it?

I'd suggest that the attitude expressed 'clasically' as "I don't know anything about computers" has been largely created and maintained by IT service deliverers because it puts them in a position of 'power' in relation to the IT consumers. It is much easier to 'get things done' when nobody questions you, and it is flattering to be called a guru.

But how does a small group of IT people persuade a much larger group of IT consumers to adopt an unflattering view of their own capabilities? Because the proponents of IT technology have had an inordinate amount of power in organisations in the last 25 years. And because it 'suits' IT consumers to avoid to some degree taking responsibility for their IT environments.

To save time in psychological explanation, consider someone you know who says "I can't drive a car, it just something I can't do". Then consider what you have already concluded lies behind that - some trauma (perhaps) or more likely some shrinking back for taking responsibility.

When those attitudes are reinforced by virtually every interaction IT consumers have with IT service deliverers, they can be remarkably persistent. I'm not suggesting that IT techs abuse customers to their faces (although some do), but even the politest rarely respond to the "I don't know much" with "yes you do, and if there's something that you need to know that we haven't taught you then it is our fault, and lets do something to fix that."

The consequences of this mutually satisfying (if largely unconscious) relationship are damaging to the organisation. The IT people having determined that IT consumers are to blame for 'everything' are effectively denying themselves the opportunity to recognize opportunities to improve the IT enviroment (because you have to take responsibility for something before you are motivated to fix/improve it); while the IT consumers are foregoing a (potentially) huge boost in productivity through failing to be given/demand/take-up opportunities to use IT in 'cleverer' ways to drive their companies business.

My problem with ITIL is that it takes a process (and forms) based approach - which are good things in themselves - but fails to recognise individual and organisation dynamics which are often 'irrational', but nonetheless 'real' and therefore need to be dealt with via real world strategies.

So how do you fix this unhealthy relationship. My suggestion (and here I'm skating on thinner ice because I've only ever succeeded at this 'to a small degree') is to challenge the belief in the the minds of the IT people everytime and everywhere you encounter it.

IT people have one particular weakness (generally) and that is that they are strong on logic. So I like to ask them, when viewing some balls-up, "so whose fault - ultimately - was that?"

Take the cleaner unplugging the network power in order to run their vacumn cleaner .. "so whose fault was that?", "Yours, because it shouldn't have been plugged in anywhere where anyone unauthorised would have access to, and it should have been a 'captive' plug (basically difficult to remove) and it should have been labelled".

Logic, with some folk, will win over prejudice. If you can get your IT techs to 'take this on board' all you have to do is get them to tell the IT consumers what's actually happening and they too will start taking their IT responsibilities more seriously.

Oddly enough, you'll get more respect from IT consumers by admitting that things are "the fault" of IT, and you'll find that it's easier to fix those things because the IT consumers will be 'coming along with you' as allies rather than enemies.

You know, they say that the best thing to bring together people who don't get along with each other is some 'common enemy'. Well we don't need to invent one, we have one ready-made, it's the sorry state of our IT environments, and our common cause can be to improve it and in doing so drive our companies business, our job satisfaction, and our skill levels ahead.

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