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A CIO’s guide to alienating business users

EducationBack in the 80’s and 90’s, major record labels essentially owned the music industry. They controlled the production and distribution of music, leaving limited options for consumers. If you wanted music, you bought a tape or a CD.

Then, digital music emerged and threatened the record label’s business model. Users could bypass the record label altogether, and instead download music online. The record labels didn’t like this one bit.

How did the record labels respond? They feverishly fought to maintain their business model. They went after those who downloaded music online, suing them for outrageous sums of money.

Meanwhile, other companies (like Apple) swooped in and gave these consumers what they actually wanted: A cheap, legal way to download music. While the record labels were busy fighting to maintain an outdated business model, other companies profited off of their customers.

I give this example because I see parallels with the current shift happening within IT departments. In the past, IT departments controlled technology within an organization. End users had no choice but to go through the IT department for their tech needs.

Then, mobile devices exploded onto the scene. Cloud-based software emerged. Now, users have options. Users are increasingly bypassing IT, and instead using their own devices and third party cloud applications for business purposes.

As a result, CIOs and IT departments are slowly losing control of the technology within their company.

How can CIOs address this growing trend? Some try to fight it. They enforce strict rules within their organizations. They attempt to maintain the former IT model.

The problem with this approach: They’re not addressing the issue. They’re not answering the question of “Why are users bypassing IT in the first place?” “Why are users using third party software over our solutions?”

The sad reality: In some instances, IT departments actually cause these issues. Their actions accidentally drive end users away from the IT department. The big question should be: In what ways do IT departments accidentally alienate their own users?

If you’re dealing with this issue, I’d like to help. I’ve compiled a list of 5 ways CIOs and IT departments may accidentally drive users away, along with tips to address each issue. Sound good? Let’s dive in. If you’re a CIO, your IT department may alienate users if you…

1. Treat users as if they have no other option

IT’s total control over technology created a “culture of no” among many IT departments. They enjoyed being in control. They enjoyed telling users what they could and couldn’t do. However, times have changed, yet some IT departments carry on like they’re the only option.

“IT does not yet understand that businesses have a choice and they need to compete against services that are available outside corporate walls,” says Mikhail Malamud, CEO of CloudAware. “IT often treats the business rudely and does not have the customer service attitude that they should have. Instead, IT often has a monopolistic view of the world and thinks their customers do not have a choice because of corporate security standards, etc…which is not true.”

Tips to address this issue:
Addressing this issue requires a fundamental mindset shift. It’s time to face reality: CIOs must realize that the IT department is no longer the user’s only option. Rather than approaching user requests with a “gatekeeper” mentality, treat them like partners. Understand what they’re trying to accomplish, and try to help them reach those goals.

2. Move slowly

“Many of my customers jumped into the cloud after they got tired of waiting for servers and software installations for many months,” explains Malamud. “Business sees everything in terms of windows of opportunities. IT does not see things that way at all.”

He brings up an excellent point: What may be just another project for IT is a time-sensitive business opportunity for the user. If IT can’t deliver a solution on time, they’ll find another option. It’s not that the users want to bypass IT. They simply believe that IT can’t move fast enough to meet their needs.

Tips to address this issue:
Addressing this issue can get tricky, as some IT departments are legitimately overworked. However, other IT departments move slowly because they spend so much time on non-essential tasks. Like what? Here’s a nice list of common IT practices that waste your time.

3. Do not offer self-service options

Taking the last point one step further, some IT departments are overworked because they try to do everything. They don’t offer end users any self-service options. As a result, the users are forced to wait for solutions and the IT department doesn’t have the time for mission critical tasks.

“There is a lot of buzz about how the CIO must align IT with the needs of the business in order to stay relevant,” says Tyler Wassell, Software Development Manager at mrc. “But the reality is that in most organizations, IT resources are already maxed out and thus the answer for most business requests is an automatic “NO”. In this type of environment, self-service reporting and application development tools are a must. The right development solution will allow IT to maintain control over application and reporting data while enabling business units the ability to meet their own application needs.”

Tips to address this issue:
IT departments often cringe at the idea of transferring traditional IT tasks to the end users. But, the fact is, software has evolved to the point where regular users can accomplish tasks like reporting or basic application development. Giving these users their own self service tools helps all involved: The end users get what they want and the IT department has more time for mission-critical projects.

4. Focus on the mundane tasks

Some CIOs spend so much time enforcing the rules, they lose sight of their goal: Help the business run smoothly, and ultimately generate more revenue. However, some IT departments accidentally accomplish the exact opposite.

“As CIO, what I’ve seen alienate users is when IT departments focus more on their mundane tasks than making life easy for their users,” explains Joe Fuller, CIO at Dominion Enterprises. “Many of the tasks that IT departments are responsible for are straightforward and important, such as securing the network and the company assets. That mission requires forcing the user community to follow the rules, and sometimes that slows everyone down.”

Fuller goes on to explain the danger of IT departments losing track of their real mission: “The mistake IT departments make is forgetting that the real mission is to help the business users efficiently run their business so they can generate revenue. Security is a necessary part of operating but should not be treated as the end-all, be-all. Automating processes and providing easy access to needed assets needs to be the primary focus. The work and responsibilities for securing the systems doesn’t change, but a different attitude can make all the difference with the users.”

Tips to address this issue:
While rules are important, don’t lose sight of your real mission of helping the business succeed. Yes, we need rules, but…you must attempt to implement your rules in the least invasive way possible.

5. Get angry when users bypass IT


photo credit: gumuz via photopin cc

Believe it or not, end users don’t actually want to bypass the IT department. They do so because IT isn’t meeting their needs. Unfortunately, many CIOs and IT departments treat this as a personal insult, and get angry with the business users. This only makes matters worse.

“Our insistence that the business comes to IT is often at odds with IT’s ability to deliver,” explains J Wolfgang Goerlich, Information Systems and Security Manager for a Midwest financial services firm. “When IT is unable to deliver in a timely fashion, unable to provide excellent customer service, or understaffed to even take the requests, the business users look elsewhere. When IT finds out, many IT departments berate the users’ actions. This further drives a wedge between IT and the business. Often, business users begin actively avoiding in-house IT altogether.”

Tips to address this issue:
“One way forward may be a concept I have been calling ‘bistro IT’”, explains Goerlich. “Imagine a limited menu, a high quality menu, delivered with high customer service. People still cook meals at home and occasionally still eat low cost fast food joints. They come to bistros because it provides a high-touch high-value experience.”

Goerlich goes on to explain the concept further: “In other words, IT departments need to focus on the core and stop demanding all decisions run through us. We must partner with IT savvy business users, embrace shadow IT and IT consumerization. By shifting from an IT approval role to an IT advisory role, the IT department can the focus on key systems, increase customer service, and improve our business alignment.”

So, if you’re a CIO struggling with IT/business alignment, here’s a question: What are you going to do? I believe IT departments are undergoing a significant shift, and those that succeed are those that address the underlying issue: Why are users bypassing the IT department in the first place?