Be an IT Lover, Not a Fighter

BusinessWeek reader and IT specialist Heather Purifoy responds to the debate over Susan Cramm's columns on the face-off between IT and management

Hi, my name is Heather. I'm 24 years old and I'll be your computer technician today.

So many times, "those IT people" are thought of as stuffy, dorky guys who have no life, live in their parents' basement, and sport a pocket protector. I'm living proof that not all IT personnel are created equal. I'm a girl in a man's world, and I'm happy as a clam with that. I work for a small business that specializes in IT solutions for local businesses and services. I'm not sure if this task is more or less difficult than the challenges faced by IT at a large corporation. Imagine working with 30 different CEOs with 30 different budgets and 3,000 ideas, and trying to keep track of it all. That, my friends, is the story of my life.

Though I've only had my toes in the IT pool for five years, I've seen enough to address the talking points raised by Susan Cramm in her article, "8 Things We Hate About IT."

Settling for Mediocrity

Of course, the word "hate" in the title is what caused such a stir among readers in the first place. It's a strong word to place on a generalized group of people. I was glad to see that in her follow-up, "8 Reasons You Should Love IT," Cramm admitted that the hatred she describes is geared toward the IT department and not the people in it.

Just as I was moved to comment on her first piece, another commenter on "8 Things We Hate" said, "Do you want it good, fast, or cheap?" Hear, hear. All too often, clients expect top-of-the-line technology but want to spend as little as possible, so they end up settling for mediocre systems (much to IT's dismay). This ends up costing more because upgrades and maintenance are needed constantly.

Sadly, trying to explain this to an executive can be about as effective as talking to your pet donkey—assuming said creature responds with a blank stare and phony head nods, and says "Uh-huh" when you explain something technical to someone who either doesn't know or, worse, doesn't really care what you have to say.

Too Many Orders, Not Enough Staff

IT is pulled in so many directions and covers such a broad spectrum of tasks, it's nearly impossible to be 100% efficient. Working in IT is similar to working in a fast-food restaurant, but one that has 10 drive-through windows staffed by two employees running to process orders from a constant stream of customers ordering 30 different items.

There's no way these frazzled employees can keep up, and chances are, their colleagues preparing the food will never be able to complete every order accurately. So how can this mythical fast-food restaurant become more efficient? A smart manager would hire more workers to take the orders and prepare the food, or move to close 8 of the 10 drive-through windows and place less pressure on the staff.

The same logic holds true in IT. Having a higher IT-to-employee ratio would certainly address many problems, but it would put a damper on budgeting, due to higher payroll. Naturally, cutting down on the number of IT projects is impossible in today's digitally crazed world.

Communicating on a Regular Basis

To Cramm's point, is it possible to "fix" IT? At least two areas could significantly improve relations between IT and, well, everyone else. First off, we should all communicate with one another on a regular basis rather than just being called in when there's a problem. Sounds obvious, but most of the interaction IT has with everyone takes place in stressful situations. Either your computer isn't working right, so we're taking too long to fix it, or we're trying to update something for the greater good, but it's causing you to be down in the process. It's rare that anyone says "Wow…IT took care of that problem quickly!"

That said, not all tech/computer/network problems come with a quick fix. This leads me to my other priority: education. To many of my colleagues, giving average computer users the ability to take charge of their computers is (gulp) dangerous, but I don't think it would hurt to educate users a little more. This could prevent potential problems and give IT a chance to finish that "big" project, instead of having to send someone over to deal with unnecessary chaos.

Cut IT A Little Slack

Trust me, it frustrates IT personnel just as much as it irks you when we can't finish a project and you can't speak to a supervisor, or you have to talk to someone in a foreign country for help. All I can ask is, please, cut us a little slack. Oh, and next time you want to complain about IT, just remember: We know your password…and how to change it!

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