Why Can’t IT Communicate?

Written by Tim Haight

I'm VP of Technology Services for CGNET. I love to travel and do IT strategic planning.

March 14, 2013

Maybe “ITcrowdThe IT Crowd” explains it all. Perhaps we in IT do have a fundamental resentment of the user, a slacker work ethic, and nonexistent social skills. I don’t really believe this, but I’m struggling to find a better explanation for why IT has so hard a time communicating!

My speculations follow, but first, I want to make it clear that this is not a rhetorical question. I would very much like to know the answer. Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

What I’ve found in consulting that I’ve done, as a general rule but with a few great exceptions, is that a communications gap exists between IT and the rest of the organization. IT regales me with stories of failed communication attempts, and users tell me how they are not being asked about what they want. Each group tends to characterize the other as a bit difficult. Very often, IT is described as hiding away in a corner of the building.

This puzzles me, because the actual people who run IT at the organizations I study tend to be bright, funny, and not particularly socially inept. I get along with them just fine. The same, by the way, is true for almost all the users I talk to in their organizations. So why can’t these fine people get along?

How’s this for a speculation! Oedipus Rex. Oedipus solves the riddle of the sphinx and is struck blind. Solve one problem, and it’s hard to see anything else. Ironically, it’s the users’ eyes that glaze over.

In other words, doing IT is hard! You have to know an amazing amount of stuff, particularly if you’re running a shop all by yourself that has email and databases and clients and servers and networks and security issues and… You also have to be able to go up to people and help them with whatever they’re having trouble with. That can be a lot of different things.

The users, meanwhile, are frustrated and feeling a bit silly for not being able to figure the problem out themselves, so they ask the normal question in such a situation, “Why is this happening!?” This is the moment of truth. Confronted with this question, the IT professional’s mind lights up with enough associations to burn out a brain scan. How can the question be answered in an hour, let alone a minute? And so often what comes out is a feeble attempt at a simple explanation that ultimately gets translated as, “It’s technical.” The IT worker leaves feeling misunderstood, and the user leaves feeling patronized. No wonder the ongoing relationship doesn’t go well.

What’s more, the situation is getting worse because of things like social media and iPads. Users now say, “Why is the stuff I use at the office so much harder than what I have at home? And why does it do so little? And why does it weigh so much?” It’s hard to explain that behind of each of those innocent little apps is an entire group of developers feverishly working on nothing else. All the user sees is the finished product, and there is no tech support. The app survives or dies from its stability, ease of use and focus on a limited task. Maybe this is why it’s so hard to get Microsoft Word on the iPad. Trying to fit in all those silly features would make the tablet explode! I can imagine meetings at Microsoft where they try to decide what features to cut…

I don’t think the situation is hopeless. I think that with a lot of time working together and some mutual compassion, it’s possible to learn about each other. But it takes some effort to overcome this situation, and meanwhile, IT, why isn’t there an app for you?

But as I said at the outset, I’m only grasping at straws here. What do you think?

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