When IT gets in the way of technology

2012

For years, I've been writing about the insanity of the modern workplace and technology's ability (or not) to help alleviate some of the craziness. But whether technology works or not depends on the tenuous relationship between the end users and the service provider, usually some branch of the IT department.

When IT and the people doing the day-to-day work are in agreement on what is needed to get the job done and the easiest (albeit responsible and secure) way to achieve that work, wonderful things can happen. But when priorities, budgets or even stated goals don't align, it can get ugly.

Recently I've run across a couple of great examples. This isn't to poke fun at IT (notice I haven't made a Star Trek reference or a Red Bull joke at all. I'm an adult now.) It should make you ask how well IT and your project team are aligned, and how you can fix the relationship, if it needs repair.

I once heard a company's IT department described as "a library where the librarian's main goal is making sure nobody takes a book out". Here are a couple of just such examples:

The good news is, it all works together, if anyone ever uses it. Recently a client of mine, a large multi-national company, switched from Microsoft LiveMeeting to its new LYNC system. If you haven't seen it, it's really a pretty nifty way to integrate all the MS tools- Outlook, Instant Messenger, Sharepoint—all the toys a team could want. My client wanted to teach people to use all its features so that meetings and webinars were interactive, engaging and productive.

Tools like sharing PowerPoint files, webcams, white boards screen sharing and more were available. Except when we tested the new system, most of the tools didn't work. A call to the nice young man in IT revealed the reason: they were by default denied to users. A telephone called resulted in a very bizarre conversation that essentially included the following details:

  • We were in a hurry to get it implemented, so we went with as stripped down a version as possible.
  • Yes, but now it doesn't have the same functionality as the old LiveMeeting tool. It's new, but doesn't work as well
  • Oh we know, but nobody ever uses those features anyway so we didn't offer them
  • Yes, and that's why we wanted to do the training—so people would see the possibility and use them.
  • Oh (followed by a deafening silence)

To their credit, the folks in IT scrambled to get everything set, the training was a huge success, and people are lining up for more. The point is, without seeing all the possibilities nobody was motivated to use it. The books in the library were perfectly safe.

The system is totally secure. In fact, half our own people can't get to it. On more than one occasion I've come across clients with employees or stakeholders scattered around the world. Holding meetings from anywhere in the world and being able to collaborate virtually is core to the project's success.

The only challenge of course is that in a fit of paranoia the security is so intense that unless you are running the meeting from behind the firewall (and I suspect a concrete bunker in the server room) and never relinquish control or expect input from anyone outside of it, the tools are basically useless and frustrating to all concerned. For example:

  • Nobody can use their webcams to see each other. Ever. Period.
  • Only people inside the firewall can schedule a meeting or upload or share content. This means that if you want to share an application with someone, there's no way. The other participants might be able to chime in by phone but lose almost all other interaction including the ability to use the whiteboard, download or transfer documents. That interactive productivity tool has basically become a one-way narrated PowerPoint presentation. Not exactly what you were looking for.
  • There was a solution—a download from the provider for a browser-based version which allowed at least minimal functionality - but IT didn't make that known because someone might, you know, actually use it. So the books were completely safe because IT kept anybody who might actually want to read them out of the library…

These situations are not all that rare. In fact, if you stop and think about the workload and performance metrics for your IT folks, they make a strange kind of sense. The lesson here is that you and the tech folks who support your business need to be aligned in what the company needs to be doing, who needs to be doing it and how to get it done while maintaining the integrity of the network and systems. There's usually a way. You just have to work together to find it.

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

Wayne Turmel is a speaker, writer and co-founder of The Remote Leadership Institute. He’s passionate about helping people present, sell and lead people and projects using today’s virtual communication technology. His books include Meet Like You Mean It - a Leader’s Guide to Painless and Productive Virtual Meetings. Wayne is based in Chicago, IL.