What end users want from IT departments

Relationship advice for IT pros, with nine tips from end-users

If the question "What do you want from me?" screams in your head throughout the day, it might be time to re-assess the relationship you have with the rest of your organization."

One of the first things IT shops can do to improve their relationships with the rest of their organization is to communicate what it is they are doing, according to Jennifer Perrier-Knox, senior research analyst at Info-Tech Research Group Ltd.

IT tends to be "somewhat self-pitying," she said. They think that nobody understands them, that they work so hard yet nobody knows it, and that nobody realizes how long things take, she said.

But the responsibility "really rests at IT's feet," she pointed out. IT tends to do a poor job of communicating what they are doing, keeping stakeholders in the loop and reporting back on what they've done, where they are at and why it is important, she said.

One basis for problematic relationships is that IT often operates a "black box," said Perrier-Knox. "With a lack of information, people are going to come to conclusions with whatever scraps and piece of information they have," she said.

Another thing IT can do is improve their help desk services. Because the help desk exists as the primary interface between IT and the rest of the organization, it is also a primary point where IT can alter its reputation, said Perrier-Knox.

"For the average end user, the help desk is their only real point of contact, so they are going to form an opinion based on those interactions. That is basically all they have to go with," she said.

Overlooking the help desk and leaving the opinion-building in the hands of the end users as opposed to taking control of it can be a bit of a gamble, according to Perrier-Knox. "You actually want to do something proactive and constructive and with intent to build the reputation," she said.

A bad reputation can have further implications down the road, she pointed out, such as problems getting co-operation from other groups in the organization and being seen as just a cost centre versus a strategic enabler.

"(One) big benefit of shaping up the help desk and having it being welcoming, responsive and effective at solving problems" is that it gives IT visibility and credibility in the organization, she said.

It's important for IT to try to meet the needs and wants of end users because IT at its heart is a service organization and the primary recipients of that service are the business users in that organization, said Perrier-Knox.

"If they are not providing high-quality service in delivering on the needs of the service recipients, then they are failing at their job," she said.

Seeing the relationship from the other person's perspective can also help. The following are suggestions from end users on how IT can better meet their needs and wants.

Exhibit good bedside manners

Gary Babcock, president and CEO of Mississauga, Ont.-based medical office automation software developer HTN Inc., likens IT managers to physicians. "Your bedside manner has just as much importance as your capability in treating a disease," he said. End users want to know what happened, how to prepare to fix it and what they can do to avoid it in the future, he explained.

If IT doesn't have the time to teach users how to do it, "at least they can make you feel you understand what is wrong with your computer and a lot of them don't do that. They just want to fix your problem and get out of there. That's not good bedside manners," said Babcock.

Treat everyone as equals

Employees may get treated differently from IT depending on which department they are coming from, according to Lorraine Lanham, manager at a major financial company based in the U.S.

When she worked with the executive office, for example, her relationship with IT was great. "They got everything done quickly, there were never any issues," she said. But the relationship declined after she transferred to another group. "It seemed like it took forever to get things done," she said.

Explain what they did wrong so they don't do it again

When you run into a problem, you want it fixed really fast, but you also want to know how to solve it should it happen again, noted Julia Seltmann, application consultant at a major health-care diagnostics company in the U.S. "I'll call in for the same problem over and over again, because they didn't tell me how I screwed it up in the first place," she said.

This is one of the weaker areas of IT, according to Seltmann. After asking what she did wrong and how she could fix it the next time so she wouldn't have to call in, the help desk suggested that should another problem arise, she should just call back again.

Own your projects

The ideal relationship with IT, according to Lanham, is when you have a designated IT person following through on a project with you. "Basically, just having someone who would own it," she said. Part of the frustration with IT occurs when you reach out to someone, they say it has been transferred to someone else and you end up chasing different people, she pointed out.

Avoid speaking in slang

"The ideal IT guy or girl is one who can take a complicated idea and explain it in terms that the average individual can understand," said Babcock. Average people don't know certain technical terms, they don't know what they are doing wrong and they don't know how to fix it, he pointed out.

Assign the call to the right person

One thing Seltmann really appreciates about the IT help line provided at her company is that there is one person who is "really good" at every application on her computer, as opposed to generalists who try to fix all the problems.

If you have a problem with PowerPoint, for example, they have a person assigned to PowerPoint who knows everything about PowerPoint, she said. When they get your call, they call you back and are able to fix it fast, she noted.

Some people say that having to wait for IT to call you back is a big problem, but it's better to wait and have the right person call back than have the wrong person try to fix it immediately, she said.

Provide timelines and open communication

There isn't much of a difference between the needs versus the wants from IT, according to Lanham. "What I would like is just open communication," she said, adding that her expectations would then be set appropriately.

When a project is requested, "let me know from the get-go or within a short amount of time how long it is actually going to take, even if it is longer than I would like," she suggested. This includes providing updates as the project moves along and reasons why there may be delays.

Explain that "it will take longer because of A, B and C, so I always have the right expectations," said Lanham.

Keep the surveys simple

Seltmann suggested scaling down help desk feedback surveys to a just couple questions or issuing those with dozens of questions periodically, as opposed to expecting end users to fill out lengthy reports on every interaction they have with the help desk. The first couple times she did fill them out, but now she just deletes them, she said. "It's the opposite reaction they want. Even though I'm happy with the job they did," she said.

Time is of the essence

The ideal IT manager is someone who knows that time is of the essence in fixing problems, according to Babcock. They can't wait until after the weekend or the next day, because having a system down can be calamitous and ultimately lead to worse problems later on, he said. "Loyalty and dedication to the job is important," he said.

Follow me on Twitter @jenniferkavur.

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Jennifer Kavur

ComputerWorld Canada
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