Where there’s a guru, there’s an IT manager roadblock

I was recently exploring some of the challenges corporate enterprises were having around a change in financial reporting that’s going to come to a head soon. Naturally, technology companies see this as a selling opportunity, especially to those that rely on an Excel guru.

“Often there will be some person in finance who is an Excel guru,” one vendor exec told me. “They know all the ins and out of Excel, but it takes them 200 times more effort (to sort out the data) than if it was in a single repository.”

I’m not an Excel guru, but I’ve met a few in my time. I’ve also met some printer gurus, some IP phone gurus and even a Microsoft Word guru. These are the people in companies who have drilled down deep on a particular device or program and become the reason so many IT projects fail. They know all the workarounds, so matter how antiquated the technology they can always find a reason to prolong its existence, and by so doing quietly discourage anyone from adopting new processes or workflows that may be wrapped around newer technology. It’s hard to compete with any workflow that ends by handing off your problem to somebody else.

We don’t pay enough attention to the reasons these gurus are so slow to walk away, probably because they all deal with human nature. The Excel guru takes pride in his mastery over the highly popular, always reliable, ever-essential spreadsheet application. By becoming so intimately acquainted with such a tool the Excel guru is seen by other users as a walking, talking data warehouse, one who doesn’t require thousands of dollars in consulting fees to work properly and who, because they have a certain pride in their specialized skills, enjoy the ability to help colleagues and the tacit dependency that such expertise confers.

The Excel guru is the enemy of business intelligence, which in some ways makes them the enemy of the IT department or senior management team. Except not exactly, because without the Excel guru a lot of other things wouldn’t run properly. The Excel guru is also the person most likely to pick up the new technology relatively quickly because they have a better handle of the data flow, what’s important and what tends to trip users up. If they can be converted, they wind up indirectly forcing everyone else to adopt the new system as well. But that also means the Excel guru has to give up their title and concentrate on empowering coworkers rather than occasionally rescuing them. It’s like a magician agreeing to show everyone else their tricks.

IT managers need to stop thinking the project is over once the technology has been deployed and new employees have been trained. The project is over once the guru has a new challenge, a new area of expertise to develop or a more valuable contribution to make. Maybe that doesn’t seem like an IT manager’s job, but without addressing it, you might as well consider your legacy technology as still operational.

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