Maintenance and IT can work together

Aug. 27, 2012
Working with the IT department can result in an easier work life.

In brief:

  • Your IT department can be an invaluable resource, and together you can accomplish more than you may have ever thought you could.
  • By looking at the world from their eyes, you can modify your approach in getting these professionals to want to work with you and possibly put your project on top of the stack.
  • Collaboration does away with the us-versus-them mentality. We are them. We’re on the same team.

Frequently, the notion of having to work with your information technology (IT) department can result in negative reactions from people. Maybe you’ve had some experiences that were not fruitful or seemed exhausting.

You may have felt like you were lost when you tried to engage them. You may have felt like you were beating your head up against the wall and running on a treadmill. Your legs were moving and your heart rate was up, but you were going nowhere. You may have been told, “no,” enough times that the rejection still hurts.

Calm your nerves. Your IT department is not the big bad wolf or an unapproachable entity that must be avoided like the plague. In fact, your IT department can be an invaluable resource, and together you can accomplish more than you may have ever thought you could.

But first, to know where we are going, we have to know where we’ve been, so an explanation of how IT has evolved is in order.

And second, we’re headed toward an IT revolution. By having an idea of where information technology is headed, you’ll understand them and be able to talk the talk.

Finally, collaboration makes sense. Some powerful CEOs used collaboration to get input and buy-in from their employees to create success that everyone can share.

Understanding IT

Collaboration at SMRP
Learn how IT collaboration resulted in success at a petrochemical company at Cindy Boyd’s presentation, “Working Effectively With Your IT Department,” part of the Business Management track, at 9:45 A.M on Oct. 16 at the SMRP annual conference in Orlando, Florida.

How do you see your IT department — as an internal vendor or a strategic partner? You may see them as both. But if you focus on the fact that these professionals are a strategic partner, you are ahead of the game because almost every function of business today has some connection to technology.

We all know that the IT department has to exist. But if I asked you what they thought their mission was, could you explain it quickly? They’re not there solely to unlock your computer or to fix your email when it’s not working. IT serves to manage the functionality and storage of information systems. One definition calls it “the branch of engineering that deals with the use of computers and telecommunications to retrieve and store and transmit information.”

Engineering? How many of us think of IT people as engineers? Does that word alone shape a different attitude?

Breaking down IT

IT can be broken down into three simple terms — applications, infrastructure, and communications.

Applications, or “apps,” can be programs or groups of programs designed for end users. Application software can be divided into two general classes: systems software and applications software. Systems software consists of low-level programs that interact with the computer at a very basic level. This includes operating systems, compilers, and utilities for managing computer resources.

Infrastructure consists of the equipment, systems, software, and services used in common across an organization, regardless of the mission, program, or project. IT infrastructure also serves as the foundation upon which mission/program/project-specific systems and capabilities are built.

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Communications is the function of sending and receiving information. Information communications technology (ICT) refers to the convergence of audiovisual and telephone networks with computer networks through a single cabling or link system. There are large economic incentives (huge cost savings because of the elimination of the telephone network) to merge the audiovisual, building management, and telephone network with the computer network system using a single unified system of cabling, signal distribution, and management.

Best practices

Like any department, IT has its own best practices and guidelines. And like most disciplines, it has its own jargon an outsider might find foreign and intimidating.

An information technology infrastructure library (ITIL) is the most widely adopted framework for IT service management (ITSM). ITIL provides management procedural guidance across the breadth of IT infrastructure, development, and operations, and is one of the best-known IT best-practice frameworks.

Control objectives for information and related technology (COBIT) is a framework for IT governance and controls and often is linked with ITIL.

One technique your department may share in common with IT is Six Sigma, a business management strategy, originally developed in the 1980s. Six Sigma became popularized after General Electric’s CEO, Jack Welch, made it a central focus of his business strategy in the 1990s. Today many sectors of industry practice this strategy. The objective of Six Sigma is to improve the quality of process output by identifying and removing the causes of errors, while minimizing variability. It uses a set of quality management methods, including statistical methods, and creates a special infrastructure of people within the organization. Black belts or green belts in your organization are people with expertise in these methods.

The open group architecture framework (TOGAF) is a detailed method and set of supporting tools for developing an enterprise architecture. It may be used freely by any organization wishing to develop an enterprise architecture. Customers who design and implement enterprise architectures using TOGAF are ensured of a design and procurement specification that will greatly facilitate open systems implementation and will enable the benefits of open systems, primarily interoperability, to accrue to the organizations with reduced risk.

Another familiar organization, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), has developed the ISO 27000 series of standards, specifically reserved for information security matters. This of course, aligns with a number of other topics, including ISO 9000 (quality management) and ISO 14000 (environmental management).

To the cloud

If you use a mobile smart phone, you might be using cloud computing, a method of ubiquitous global storage and access. Through an Internet or cellular network connection, you can access any applications, files, or data you have opted to store in “the Cloud,” anytime, anywhere, from any device.

Computerized technology is a continuum of change. It has moved from mainframes to client/server (enterprise) structures and now to the post-PC Cloud era. Over time, giant mainframes became smaller. Hardware and software were customized because there was not a lot that could be bought off the shelf.

10 ways to IT love

So, how do you get the IT department on your good side? In a phrase, kill them with kindness. Here are 10 quick ways to compel IT professionals to put your project on the top of the stack.

1. Establish a relationship. Emails are not great relationship builders. In fact, you may have found out that they get us in more trouble than we bargain for. Steve Jobs realized this and insisted on human interaction. Prior to approach, find out what kind of climate they are in. Are they in the middle of a massive technology overhaul? Has a virus or some kind of attack put them in an alarmed state? Have they been putting in massive overtime to complete a project? If you want to get on IT’s good side, find out what is driving them.

2. Begin with the end in mind. This is Habit 2 of Stephen Covey’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” In working with IT, let them know what the end result will look like and the benefits it will bring to the company. Sometimes you have to sell the dream. While you are doing this, listen to the response the IT manager gives you. This is your chance to seek to understand. What is most people’s favorite subject to discuss? In most cases, it will be themselves. So I encourage you to ask the IT pros what is going on in their worlds. You may run into another problem, when they can’t stop talking.

3. Be open to learning the language. When you get to know a little bit of another person’s language, the communication barrier falls. At the same time, it is important that you be cognizant of words in your work vocabulary that may be challenging to an IT person. Once you talk the talk, then you more easily walk the walk.

4. Show respect and be complimentary. This may be common knowledge, but I would be remiss if I didn’t cover it. One of the basic needs of person is to want to feel important. When you let other people know that you find their roles in the organization critical to success, they will warm to you. Be sympathetic to their workloads and try and offer to help in some way if you can. It will show them that you care.

5. Set the tone for collaboration. In school, many teachers start a new year by instructing their students that, inside the walls of the classroom, all questions are valid. The teacher breaks down the atmosphere of intimidation and closely guards any remarks that might tear it down. Instead, they encourage a community of inquisitiveness and learning. The same needs to happen when you work with IT. Be the first to admit that you don’t know everything and that you’re excited to learn from them. That’s another secret: People like to show off their knowledge if they feel you genuinely want to learn what they know.

6. Recognize people for the good things they do. Many people feel they work thankless jobs. A quick email to the supervisor praising your IT person’s work or submitting a quick article to your communications officer describing the incredible job your IT people are doing to be published in the company newsletter will have them putting your projects on the top of the pile.

7. Utilize the power of follow-through. If you don’t think you’re going to be able to live up to what you promised or thought you could do, level with them and let them know the details. People understand when you tell the truth.

8. Plan a field trip. Who doesn’t like to get out of the office once in awhile? Invite a person or a group on a field trip to see your work world. Show them how a collaborative effort could result in a direct impact to the company and its customers. IT doesn’t always see the end result of their work. You may want to mix in a little breakfast or lunch to make things more fun.

9. Celebrate, good times, c’mon! If you think about it, work is really about having a goal and then working toward it. I see little danger in celebrating success in a job well done or in stages if it is a massive undertaking. A friend of mine went to an office one day and, when he walked in, he said they were all celebrating, laughing, and eating. My friend asked, “Is it someone’s birthday?” The answer was that they were celebrating because one of their offshore rigs had exceeded the million-barrel mark. Going to work each day is a lot easier if there is a chance for celebration. And what’s the best way to celebrate at work? Food. People like to eat. Taking a person to lunch or sending their department a batch of cookies makes people want to reciprocate. So go ahead and feed your dreams.

10. Be a helper, not an attacker. It’s important that, when things go wrong, and we all know they will, we attack the problem and not the person. Set this tone early. Instead of lashing out when the system crashes, find out what you might be able to do to help. Avoid the temptation to criticize and choose the path of a willingness to help out. If you show forgiveness and come across with a posture of wanting to help, it will go a long way for you.

We later shifted into the enterprise model, used by large organizations such as multinational corporations, universities, hospitals, and governments. It requires special computing solutions because of its size. It uses computers in its network that encompass a variety of operating systems, protocols, and network architectures. This model manages a large amount of information over an extensive geographical area and disparate groups of people.

There is something else to be aware of called the “Internet of Things,” which refers to uniquely identifiable objects (things) and their virtual representations in an Internet-like structure. By 2020, 50 billion things or devices will be connected by the Internet. Consumers of information technology, whether individuals or companies, will increasingly expect the information they want is at their disposal, regardless of where they are.

IT rebranded

What if the IT department were rebranded as the collaboration department? How would that reset or restart its perception? IT leaders are committed to ending the break/fix cycle and determined to focus on strategic/high-value projects, instead of fixing broken systems and constantly putting out fires.

Technological pioneers realized the power of collaboration. The late Steve Jobs knew that innovation and creativity don't happen in cubes or through email. In the center of his company’s office building, Jobs created an atrium area, which might seem like a waste of space. The reason he did it was to increase collaboration between departments. People who work on software code are here; people who animate are there; and people who design are over there. He put the mailboxes, the meetings rooms, the cafeteria, and, most insidiously and brilliantly, the bathrooms in the center, which initially drove everyone crazy. But when people run into each other, when they make eye contact, things happen.

Creating an atmosphere for integrated information has been difficult to achieve. What once was regarded as necessary barriers between the different stages in operational processes designed to achieve the benefits of specialization now represent silos delivering outmoded solutions. This prohibits the sharing of information. Today’s school of thought is that these barriers at the business and technical levels must be dissipated.

Powerful benefits

Collaboration does away with the us-versus-them mentality. We are them. We’re on the same team. Collaboration may take more time on the front end, but it saves a ton of time on the back end because the left hand knows, and maybe has approved, what the right hand is doing. There are fewer surprises and setbacks that could force delays in having to go back to the drawing board.

Business analytics have moved to the fore. By analyzing data and making relevant information available to employees who can effectively use it, corporations are able to compete in the marketplace more effectively.

Improved employee collaboration helps a company to achieve its goals, which is path to effectiveness. Be clear about what your goals are, and design your collaborative community with these in mind. Collaboration can be fun. Just as a football team collaborates to score a touchdown. Everyone knows the play and their assignments. When everyone executes, the team scores and wins.

Many people are frustrated that they have little to no say in how their companies operate. Collaboration creates buy-in, which begets commitment, and there’s real power in that.

No means help

Why does IT often have to decline or reject requests? The majority of the time, the department is maxed out. It has 20 projects going at once and another 30 on the list. Be sympathetic to IT’s workload when you need help or collaboration.

The IT department often blocks websites or prohibits certain emails because of security. It may not want large files coming in that take a long time to scan for viruses and other problems. The company’s networked technology usually is the lifeblood of the business and compromises could be very damaging, or even fatal.

Sometimes requests are made that can’t happen because IT can’t support it. There may be some equipment someone wants to use, but it may not be compatible with the existing technology. Other times, the department can’t support and manage a program and technology unless it is given money and resources from upper management. Everything that interfaces with the system must be monitored and managed.

Another scenario might be because the IT department just doesn’t understand what is being asked. Feeling stressed, the reply may be “no” because it would take too much time to understand what’s needed. If this happens, do not react negatively. This is an opportunity to take someone to lunch.

Finally, there are two of my favorite responses: “We have never done this before,” and “We have done this before, and it did not work.”

If you’ve never done something before, how do you know how an attempt will result? And, if you’ve done something before and it didn’t work, aren’t you that much smarter the next time? Remember that it took Thomas Edison a little more than 10,000 attempts to get the light bulb to work.

Cindy L. Boyd is CEO of CBM Enterprise Solutions and president of Sentigy (www.sentigy.com). Contact her at [email protected].

Working together, everyone wins

Working with the IT department can be a highly rewarding experience that can result in an easier work life and unrealized job satisfaction. By looking at the world from their eyes, you can modify your approach in getting these professionals to want to work with you and possibly put your project on top of the stack.

By understanding the big picture, embracing changes, making an effort to speak their language and being sensitive and cooperative to the constraints and conditions they work under, you can gain their acknowledgement as a person who gets it.

Because of your conscientious desire to be a team player, they quickly will understand that you are not one of the many who thinks IT people sit around in a dark room eating donuts waiting for you to barge in with a list of problems and tasks. Because of your sympathetic demeanor to their workload and willingness to help, you can win them over. By showing them that you care, you can make a friend and just about everyone would rather collaborate with a friend than a co-worker.