IT, users should learn to be nice

I have a theory. The major reason why there is often great tension between IT and the user population is because users don’t understand IT and what it does, so IT becomes isolated within the corporate culture.

There are complaints from users about the quality and timeliness of IT’s services, their attitudes and their competency. IT’s riposte is that users are ignorant about technology, unwilling to be responsible for their use of PCs and need a good slap upside the head.

What comes across when hearing the problems from both sides is that most of the problems are petty. Forget the characterizations of the snide techno-arrogant IT guys or the bovine stupidity of users. What seems to get forgotten is the ultimate issue: getting the job done.

And getting the job done can be accomplished the hard way – with angst and tension – or the less hard way – with humour and a feeling of common purpose (there is no “easy way” once you leave kindergarten).

The only thing that can create what I think of as a healthy IT/user environment is developing a corporate culture that behaves rationally and appropriately where PCs and networks are concerned. The trouble is that for many of us, our organizations are not young and malleable – they are middle-aged or even old and, to a greater or lesser degree, set in their ways so making change happen can be an uphill struggle.

We all know how hard it is to break a habit. For example, if you bite your nails or smoke, you’ll know how hard it is to change that behaviour – it is etched into your nervous system and only extraordinary effort and discipline can change it.

So it is with companies. They get set in their ways and to get them to stop doing the equivalent of biting their nails is very, very difficult, even when times are hard and change is inevitable.

Sometimes companies have the equivalent of emotional problems – and that is the nature of the problem when there’s a rift between users and IT. This kind of schism leads to IT having a tendency to focus on maintaining the status quo rather than the bigger picture of enabling the evolution of the company.

What much of it comes down to is communication. At the heart of the problem is usually the issue that the work of IT is considered to be too “techie” for users to understand. But this can be solved. I suggest you establish an IT council of users and IT staffers that meets at least monthly to identify what problems have been seen and how they can be fixed. Then the council should send all staff members a brief summary of what has been done and what needs to be done.

If this is done through a mailing list or a Web log then users can comment and participate. And here’s where a few ringers can be used. All you need are one or two “IT groupies” who, without being too gushing in their praise, can act as a positive influence on what will hopefully become an on-going dialogue. But note that if IT gets criticized in this open forum then IT has to take it on the chin and resolve the issue.

Once IT is demystified and a workable, respectful relationship is established between IT and the users, then everyone can get on with getting the job done and making money. Is that a good theory or what?

Gibbs is a contributing editor at Network World (US). He is at