Users love to hate IT

IT staff can give up hope of winning the affection of other workers in their business until users can really understand the complexities of what goes on in an IT department, according to IT professionals who spoke with Computerworld.

Chris Tayler, manager IT services, William Angliss Institute of TAFE in NSW, believes the users in his organisation view him as 'the policeman who sets policies to stop them having free run of the computers.

"I think most of the users hate me because I stop them doing things like downloading the latest screensaver or MP3 from the Net," Tayler said.

Keeping the network stable, however, keeps users happy, Tayler saidAccording to a survey undertaken by Network World (US) - a sister IDG publication - a reason why there is great tension between the IT and user population is because users don't understand IT and what it does, causing IT to become isolated within the corporate culture.

Users complained about the quality and timeliness of IT services, but the IT department responded in the survey accusing users of being ignorant and not responsible in their use of PCs. One IT department went as far as saying users "need a good slap upside the head".

"We are actively working towards changing the IT staff ethic, as well as encouraging people to seek further training to make them understand their role in maintaining their PCs and files," Tayler said in response to the findings.

However, an information service director from a government department who requested anonymity said she disagrees with the IT response, adding "we would never respond like [slap in the head]".

The IS director said IT departments can't be expected to work miracles with 'no budget', and added that her users realise the IT department really does make their lives easier.

Joe Deragon, CIO, Asia Pacific, Zurich Financial Services, said IT departments are too often oblivious to being in a service role and the need for close relationships, high levels of quality and a professional approach.

"I understand the strengths and weaknesses of both sides [users and IT] of the issue, but IT tends to isolate business, and business tends to isolate IT. The collaboration needed between business and IT rarely happens," Deragon said.

The IT professionals who spoke to Computerworld, declined to accept being labelled as 'snide techno-arrogant IT guys and girls', and also refused to blame the rift between IT staff and users on the 'bovine stupidity of users'. Most claim they work hard to communicate IT ideas and issues - in non-technical speak - to the rest of the organisation.

"We are rarely techno-arrogant and our users are rarely stupid. The issue again is time and collaboration to work through joint objectives. Rarely is the time spent to understand the baseline, the objective and what it will really take to get there," Deragon said.

Tayler said the rift between IT staff and users can be rectified by clear communication; informing users of expected outages and relevant time frames. Even if the time frames have to be adjusted, at least the users, when they're informed, feel valued rather than just having the system shut down unannounced, he said.

Andrew Cotton, business analyst, Westfield, said companies control their level of IT support and thus set the level of user satisfaction through the allocation of funding and management.

"The reason that there can be tension between the IT help desk and the users is that users are complaining to the wrong people about their desire for better service. In other words, it's no use complaining to the bus driver that he doesn't drop you off at your front door, it's better to complain to the person who sets the bus route," Cotton said.

The Network World (US) survey suggests companies establish an IT council of users and IT staffers that meets at least monthly to identify the problems that surface and how they can be fixed. However, Tayler said the council at his company has just been disbanded as the staff were just not interested in what was happening.

"We tried several variations on this theme, from a user group, apps group, and nontech-specific focused groups, but never really got the attendance beyond the IT staff and a couple of staff representatives," Tayler said.

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