What IT managers can do instead of saying

In one of my neighbourhood’s boutiques there’s a sign available forpurchase, presumably to be hung outside someone’s home. It says,“Friends welcome. Relatives by appointment only.” I’m sure there aresome IT managers who could come up with some enterprise-specificvariations on this theme. There may even be some interested in aproduct I was pitched today called CubeGuard:

Until now, there has been no effective way to preventinterruptions while working on important tasks. But now a unique newproduct called the CubeGuard Cubicle Message Barrier helps solve thischallenge by providing a retractable message banner that is easilymounted across a cubicle or office entryway. This fun yet functionalnew communication tool lets workers prevent productivity interruptionsbefore they start by sharing a colorfully direct message like “DO NOTDISTURB” or “GO AWAY” to ward off unwanted interruptions fromco-workers.

Of course, CubeGuard won’t do much to deal with the distractions orinterruptions that come via e-mail, text message or phone call, butthere’s only so much you can expect from a retractable message banner.For that matter, most IT departments don’t have the luxury of ignoringinterruptions from other employees, at least not for extended periodsof time. Managing distractions is a key technology executive skill set– to the point that you might think of CIOs as chief interruptionsofficers.

The concept of CubeGuard raises an interesting issue, though – whatare the best ways to effectively keep some users at bay in order tokeep projects and priorities on track? Applications like IssueManager,which our company’s project management office is considering, is onesolution. Walking up or texting a request is no longer an option,especially if it’s something that will take a significant amount oftime. Another tactic might be providing an update on the queue ofrequests (read: interruptions) in the form of a weekly e-mailnewsletter for staff or intranet update. A more modern technologyprofessional would make use of Twitter or LinkedIn, which would givestaff an instant window to the IT manager’s current activities.

What all these approaches share is a tendency to put some of theadministration on the user’s back, but also an effort to shareinformation about the IT department workload. Of all the communicationissues affecting IT shops, this may be the most important. It’s notjust putting up a sign, and it’s not about restricting the message toone form of communication. Instead of setting up a CubeGuard, ITmanagers need to figure out a way to tear the barriers down.

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