I got the surprise of my business life the other day when I sent a set of three questions about our IT Department to all our senior managers. LLP Group has its headquarters in Prague and offices in nine other countries around the world. We’ve centralised IT support and systems and we set standards that all our local offices must follow.
- Is there anything that you find frustrating about the service our IT Department provides and that you believe should be improved?
- Is there technology that we should be using (and that other companies like LLP Group use) that our IT department isn’t telling us about or planning that we should use?
- Is there anything that you manage or provide yourselves that you think our IT department should be managing or providing instead?
Now, when you ask about your own company’s IT you must usually brace yourself for criticism. Criticism has been abundant in the past. Complaints have included:
- ‘You’re so Prague centric and you never have time to deal with our concerns in …..’
- ‘Security is dire’
- ‘Their approach is so old-fashioned, we should have outsourced everything to the cloud’
- ‘The network is horribly slow’
- ‘They don’t believe what we tell them’
- ‘Why was the system down for so many hours?’
Very often such complaints have been justified. Indeed I once fired an IT Director for not noticing that the automatic daily backups for our mission-critical systems weren’t actually working. We accidentally deleted an important table and had to recreate our timesheet records from a three-month-old backup. It took a week and cost a lot of time and money.
It must be hard to run an IT department. You’re rarely thanked. The best you can hope for, perhaps, is not to be noticed, though everyone needs to know where you are in an emergency. As a consultant I often hear from clients about how awful their IT departments are. Amongst their complaints are:
- IT specialists speak a nerdy language that ordinary users don’t understand, so the remedies they suggest to everyday problems are incomprehensible
- They’re so clever and knowledgeable that they treat their users with disdain – as if they’re idiots
- They say ‘No’ to almost everything – No to Webex, No to Skype, No to so many of the tools that modern business relies on
- They often fail to solve performance issues and end up putting the whole business at risk.
So, I was surprised and pleased when I didn’t receive a single complaint from any of our managers (and nearly all of them took the trouble to answer them). I’d instigated the research because I’d heard nothing at all about IT for months and wondered what they were doing and whether they should be doing more of it, or different things entirely. But it seems they’ve got it right – striking the right balance between what should be managed centrally and what should be managed locally, providing a good service, keeping our systems alive and well and quick, obstructing nothing and taking few risks. Quiet, it seems, is good.
But I won’t give you the name of our IT Manager, in case you try to take him away from me.
Outsourcing is a fashionable topic – at least if you’re talking about the Cloud. Of all the good and bad arguments for outsourcing systems, the one I’ve most often heard is that ‘If we outsource, then we won’t have to deal so much with our own IT department.’
Why is it that IT Departments are so often feared and loathed? I wish I knew. Is it because they are aliens of a kind – super-intelligent beings who speak another language? Or is it that they never meet the end-customers of a business? Or is it that they are never thanked, or never get the management support and budget that they need? Or is it just very, very difficult to get it right? There must surely be an opportunity for some lucrative consulting in this field if only one knew the answers. But we can’t do without them!