When IT Is the Problem

I recently received an e-mail about a column from way back on April 3 ("Making the Best of Bad Situations"). The reader wanted to ask about a bad situation at his wife’s workplace, even though her situation was the opposite of what I had described.

In my article, I had talked about an IT department that functioned well but served a dysfunctional company. The reader said his wife’s user department desperately wants to do the right things in terms of IT. However, the IT department doesn’t allocate enough resources to it. He believed that the IT department was responsible for her department’s complete lack of IT knowledge and asked what I could suggest to improve the situation.

It’s a good question. There are IT managers who appear to impede basic IT deployment, like support for Excel. What can you do?

Let’s start with understanding how IT managers allocate resources. One factor is that IT never has enough resources to satisfy every request or to complete every project. Another is that most of us act in ways that we believe will be rewarded. Combine them, and you have an IT manager who allocates scarce resources by whatever method generates the greatest rewards. Some managers use methods that are structured and predictable, while others use approaches that are ad hoc or appear totally irrational. But given a stable company culture — great, good or dysfunctional — IT managers will allocate resources in line with that culture or face replacement. So if your IT manager has been around for more than 18 months (the time required to ensure cultural adoption at most firms), he’s allocating resources as expected.

To change the resource allocation, either follow your company’s rules or, in cases where there appear to be no rules, get help from your executive. I have found that most execs are pleased to sponsor IT work if a department or person is willing to help ensure a smooth implementation. Given that the goal of automation is to increase efficiency, you and your supervisor should prepare a plan that details the efficiency that automation will capture. Will you decrease your expenses or increase your revenue? Spell it out.

As for the other part of the reader’s question, IT can’t keep a department from learning about IT. The majority of households own PCs, and you can find an Excel for Dummies book at any local bookstore. Is IT management saying, “No, you can’t read a book or take a class in your spare time?” Idoubt it.

But if the IT managers aren’t taking a leadership role in training, you have to remember that they are busy doing what the corporation wants them to do. They don’t have time for anything else. So you have to step up to the plate. Buy a couple of computer books and set up a competition to see who can read the most and automate some of the department’s basic work. You don’t need big prizes — a $10 gift card from Starbucks and an award certificate will do. After 30 days, those who have the time and the inclination will start to develop a few interesting spreadsheets. Share these with management, and ask for some more funding for slightly larger prizes. Sooner or later, IT will hear about what’s going on and want to be a part of your success.

Virginia Robbins is a former CIO and is now chief operations officer at North Bay Bancorp in Napa, Calif. Contact her at vrobbins@sbcglobal.net.


Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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