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Your IT team’s most embarrassing statistic

On Wednesday I sat in on a round table discussion with some of Australia’s top CIOs at ADAPT’s CIO Edge event. Hosted by VMWare, the event started with one of their directors, Andrew Fox, sharing the following statistic:

  • 95% of IT people think they provide employees with the digital tools they need to be successful in their job
  • Only 58% of their employees agree

The problem here isn’t that people can’t always get the latest, shiniest new tech. The problem here is that one group of people think they’ve done their job…and yet the people they serve think they clearly haven’t.

So how can this be so? How can it be that there is such a disconnect? Well I dug up the research report this statistic came from. In it I found another, more embarrassing statistic:

  • 83% of IT people think they give employees a voice when it comes to which digital technologies they can use at work
  • Only 36% of employees agree

WHAT?

First, why don’t 100% of IT people feel they give people a voice? You would think that the person doing the job they’re paid to do would be well qualified to provide input on what tools they need to do it.

Second, if you’re wondering why IT isn’t treated like partners in the business, it’s because close to two thirds of people don’t think you listen. The basis of any partnership, or any meaningful relationship is communication.

Unfortunately, as I sat in this round table I noted there was almost a complete lack of embarrassment on the faces of these CIOs. Even though half of them were statistically doing worse than the figures noted above.

The problem here doesn’t lie with IT people, it lies with the way IT people get trained and developed. As pointed out by Julia Steel at the same event, IT people get trained in cables and code, not in how to have effective conversations. And perhaps a decade ago that was acceptable. The IT people did the IT and the operational people did what they were told. But we now live in a world where employees are more tech savvy than ever and job mobility is at an all time high. Now if you don’t give people the tech they need they leave (or don’t take a job with you in the first place).

It’s no longer enough for IT people to be technically competent. The ability to communicate and collaborate with end users and the ability to work in a team needs to be part of every modern IT person’s skill set.

If they aren’t teaching these skills at university (and a quick review of current IT degrees suggests they aren’t) then this needs to be a priority for the people running IT in every organisation.

Regardless of the size of the business, people need to be able to influence the technology they get.

The divide between IT and…well, everyone else in your business

Back in around 2007, I spent a few a few years working for Rio Tinto. It was my first and only proper corporate job…and it came with a proper corporate IT team. When I started there the IT team was located just a couple of floors below me, but even then I only remember meeting one member of the IT team face to face. His name was George. Unlike the rest of the IT team that stayed at their desks, George use to walk each of 20 odd floors of Rio Tinto employees every couple of weeks. He would drop by each desk, identifying problems people were having, and showing them simple tips and tricks with their laptop or Blackberry (it was 2007 after all).

Photo by Alex Kotliarskyi on Unsplash

…That was until the Helpdesk function got outsourced to India and then I never saw George again, or anyone else from IT for that matter. Getting IT issues fixed ended up being a lot harder and often it was just seemed easier to leave them broken.

Many would find this a rather typical experience of corporate IT. The commoditisation of IT services and the pursuit of lower costs have seen many IT functions either outsourced or rationalised out of existence. But the impact of this is much bigger than the pain and frustration of end users not being able to get simple computer issues fixed. The big cost is in the unrealised potential of new technology solutions to be applied within an organisation.

There is little doubt that some of the biggest opportunities in modern business are being driven by innovations in technology. Yet if the people who understand the technology aren’t (or can’t) effectively engaging with people in the operational side of the organisation, many of these opportunities will never be identified, investigated, or ultimately implemented.

This physical separation between people in IT and operations is just a facet of the IT-Operational Divide. In addition to the physical divide, there is often also a language divide (people in IT and operations use different words, abbreviations and terms), a role divide (people in IT and operations work in fundamentally different ways and don’t understand how or why that is the case) and potentially even a respect divide (IT professionals are often seen as a roadblock and struggle to get the respect of their peers).

As long as this continues, the impact on the bottom line has got little to do with what the cost of the IT function and a lot to do with the improvement opportunities that are never identified.

To proactively realise these opportunities, we ultimately need to overcome the IT-Operational divide…and somewhat ironically the best way to overcome the divide would be to get IT and operational people working together to realise some of these opportunities. But left to their own devices this is unlikely to occur (like mixing oil and water this may initially require a bit of shaking, or for the nerds out there the addition of an emulsifier). Instead organisations need to provide a structured ‘learn by doing’ approach that facilitates direct engagement and breaks down the physical, language, role, and respect barriers that are currently holding the organisation back.

This blog post has been syndicated to Medium. If you’d like to add comments or ideas, head over to this page.

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Simon Waller is a author, speaker and trainer helping organisations get more out of their technology. He is also the founder of the Digital Champions Club, a program that develops internal digital experts who can identify, investigate, and implement the technology projects that matter.