How Are You Improving User-IS Relations?

BOSTON (06/15/2000) - A few months ago, I wrote a column called "Why does everyone hate the IS department?" and received more than 200 impassioned postings from embattled IS professionals. Some respondents argued that tight budgets, managerial deficiencies and personality conflicts run so deep that antagonism between IS departments and their users is here to stay. "IS management expects users to pay for training, and user management expects IS to pay," wrote one reader. "Cost-cutting demands that have been placed on management in every department create a standoff that never gets resolved."

"Political pressure within the organization causes IS people to go off in a hundred different directions at the same time," wrote another. "The result is that no one--neither the IS people, nor their users--is ever happy. This will never change."

But many readers were far less pessimistic. They not only believe that IS departments can work harmoniously with their users, they are creating that harmony within their own organizations.

Jim Reddish, director of IS at the Community Educators Credit Union in Rockledge, Florida, has been "building on a team attitude. Just like in team sports, you need everyone to work together," he writes. "We try to make sure someone from IS is in on other departmental meetings. It's important for the users to hear what technology can do for them."

Michel Fourni, director of IT at Cartons St. Laurent in Montreal, has found that "by establishing a clear service-level agreement, putting a strong emphasis on the quality of support and following up with a yearly customer satisfaction survey, it is possible to have a good working relationship with the user community."

"A few years ago, I came into a building filled with animosity toward IS," writes Joe Gagliardi, CIO of Unisa, based in Miami. "An overworked MIS department was in constant emergency mode, always working for whoever was screaming the loudest. After getting the backing of the board and top management, I put into place a separate department just to deal with the fires, and a small team to work on fixing the infrastructure of the systems. It only took a few months for the corporate culture to change. Today there is a positive spirit and a strong sense of teamwork."

To these IS managers and CIOs, change is possible, and they are making it happen. What about you? Are you throwing up your hands in despair over eternal interdepartmental battles or are you working hard to eliminate them? What are you doing to improve relations with your users? This thread began March 15, 2000. Here is a sampling of the responses that I received. You can respond to me at mheller@cio.com or via the Web at comment.cio.com.

We took several steps to improve relations with our users. Here's our top 10 list.

1. Reorient all of our work into services.

2. Establish service-level agreements for everything we do.

3. Make sure IS understands that the employees of the company are our customers.

4. Implement an account management program for the departments who use many IT services.

5. Implement a tender loving care (TLC) program where senior IS people are paired up with company executives and department heads to periodically meet, check progress, make suggestions and gain feedback.

6. Implement a Web-based customer survey that samples one-quarter of the company each quarter (it helps if you outsource this to a professional survey company).

7. For the people in IS who are on a variable pay plan (more than 50 percent), earmark a portion of the variable pay to be dependent on the customer satisfaction rating.

8. Be very aggressive in adopting new technologies--the users love it and IS employees are excited about it.

9. Adopt a theme of running IS as a business that makes us think and act as if we need to sustain a business of our own. This helps us be responsible and cost-effective and to plan ahead.

10. Conduct quarterly service reviews for each service that allow us to review the health of each service. Mark Endry Senior Vice President & CIO J.D. Edwards & Co. mark_endry@jdedwards.com It is all a matter of attitude. everyone wants to be heard, especially when they are under pressure and something isn't working. Let the users shout and just listen; when they calm down, smile and try to make them feel as if you are doing everything you can to resolve the problem. IS needs to learn not to take the shouting personally but at the same time keep an open ear. Laurence Mayer IS Manager Yazam.com lmayer@yazam.com we are here to support users in whatever problems they encounter. We must also maintain a customer support role and develop relationships with the users, so that the end users trust us to handle their problems. It's similar to any business--the customer is always right, the same goes for IS. We need to service users from this standpoint so that we can gain their trust. It takes hard work and good leadership and we must always keep communication open at all times between all departments. Ken Garcia CIO Kenwood Americas Corp. kgarcia@kenwoodusa.com I have to hand it to joe gagliardi because i think he put his finger on the problem that causes the low marks that IT receives in many businesses. If IT is ever to improve relations with its customers (a term we prefer over users) we must focus on breaking the fire-fighting cycle. The CIO's primary role then becomes one of gaining the support to create enough "white space" for the IT staff to address the underlying causes of the crises (poorly devised or inadequately enforced standards, inadequate operating processes, poor communications and so on).

The second job for the CIO is to make sure that the organization has the necessary competencies to solve the underlying problems. If these do not exist in the organization, a retooling process must begin that will probably cause the culture change to take longer than the few months that Joe experienced at Unisa. The important step is to begin the improvement process and then communicate extensively with the customers, even when things go wrong. Rather than blame human nature, we should exploit it. People feel better when they are informed and believe that there is empathy for their pain. Brad King Vice President & CIO The Day & Zimmermann Group brad.king@dayzim.com HOW ARE YOUR I.S.-USER RELATIONS? Want to sound off on this or other topics?

Join the ongoing debates at comment.cio.com.

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