Why can't IT speak our language?

2009

I recently watched a fascinating event that explained a lot about the relationship between IT and the rest of the human race. It said a lot about where the tension comes from. (Okay, a lot of the trouble comes from technophobes like me making lame Star Trek jokes, but they're such easy targets and they ask for it with their private jokes and silly rules about outside applications and not sucking up bandwidth with video downloads).

I was speaking at a conference over the weekend and, as I often do, poked my head into a session I had no business attending. For my own professional development I always try to sit in on one breakout session that is so far out of my comfort zone I risk vertigo.

The session I found, "Microsoft's SharePoint and collaboration tools in the enterprise environment", seemed guaranteed to make my inner Luddite dizzy, if not actually bleed from the ears.

Full disclosure: jokes aside, I actually like SharePoint. It's a good tool and a number of my clients use it with varying degrees of success. But since most of them have a terrible time getting their people to actually use the darned thing, I was fascinated by the discussion.

The speaker was challenging the audience with a simple question: "how do you describe SharePoint to your customers?"

"A collaboration interface", said one earnest person.

"A knowledge capture tool", piped up another.

" A waste of money, a pain to implement and you can't get anyone to actually use it". The guy in the Apple shirt was instantly whisked away by security and I took his seat to get a better view of the festivities.

The speaker looked at them and said "it's a tool so that people don't have to spend three days waiting for someone to email them that old PowerPoint presentation".

The assembly stared open-mouthed. I just applauded, then slunk into my seat, hoping security still hadn't gotten back from gang-stomping the Mac fan.

His point, and I couldn't agree more, is that the biggest problem with getting people to use technology is not that they're afraid of it. They just aren't in love with it enough to drop everything and learn its intricacies without a really good reason - and a "robust user interface" and "multi-function collaboration tools" ain't that reason.

Why would someone want to use a tool like this? There are lots of good reasons:

  • No more getting on conference calls and starting late because half the team is working with the wrong version of the document
  • No more downloading a file from your email, then forgetting where you saved it so you have to tell your team mates "I never got it, my email has been acting funky"
  • No more sending out emailed cries for help to find that great white paper that Johnson wrote just before they took him away in handcuffs. The man was a crook but he knew his stuff

I know a lot of IT folks grumble that people - especially older workers - are too afraid of technology. But while they may not be signing up for the new CRM system, they're using Skype to video conference with their grandkids in Australia, flirting with their old high school flame on Facebook and following Ashton Kutcher on Twitter for reasons even Demi Moore can't define. Technology isn't the problem, motivation is.

I know this from personal experience. Technology and I have a simple agreement: if it makes my life easier or helps me do my job better, I'm on board. If not, I have better things to do.

I use about six different webmeeting platforms in a given week and do things on a daily basis that I couldn't explain to my father with three dictionaries and a slide show.

All that aside, my DVR has been flashing 12 since May. It isn't going to make my life any easier by fixing it, and I don't have the time to go through the manual with a highlighter, hence I am in no hurry to learn it, even if it means missing "Burn Notice".

In the interest of creating peace in the lunch room let's strike a deal. I'll use your technology - no matter how frustrating it is - if you'll just give me a really good reason that makes sense to me. Oh, and please use small words. I'm not as smart as you. At least that's what the guy with the Spock ears says.

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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.

Older Comments

I don't think the IT guys wants to prevent you from running outside applications or to stop surfing YouTube. He has been told his director, who was told by the VP, who was told by the CIO, who was told by the CEO that 'we are spending too much money on IT'. So the VP told her Directors who did some analysis and found that cost were going up because most of the company's bandwidth was being used to surf YouTube and that the Help Desk was swamped with calls from employees who downloaded software from the Internet and now their computer no longer works.

Khürt L Williams Princeton, NJ

Thanks Khurt... I actually do feel for those folks in IT who have to enforce rules (and as I learned working retail as a young person, the last thing I want is to have to serve people like ME). Nice synopsis of the chain of command, too. Thank you for posting, let's keep the conversation going!

Wayne Turmel Chicago