The user is not the Enemy

IT is an interesting place to work. The information infrastructure is increasingly becoming a critical component for normal business operations. Yet IT is often overlooked, with no attention being given to it until something goes wrong. Your average IT worker is probably unknown to 90% of the company, receiving no praise when things simply work as they should, but being raked over the coals for any minor glitch in the system, even if it is nothing they have any control over. Buggy software, faulty hardware, unrealistic budgets, and clueless users can all combine to make IT a nightmare, and many tech workers adopt a bunker mentality to deal with this. It's hard to blame them.

However I think that the bunker isn't where IT belongs. Innovation is providing us with the tools to change how we work and live. New technologies and exciting new ways to apply old technologies offer some pretty amazing opportunities. Too often though these opportunities are missed because the people that should be championing the implementation of them are too busy putting out fires and covering their asses. Too many of them are either bitter over past experiences, or petty control freaks that aren't open to any change that isn't their idea.

I really am tired of seeing so many in my field treat the users as the enemy. Whatever became of the “service” in IT service? Why is the response to a request for a feature so often a flat out no, or a demand to justify the need for such a thing? I understand that resources are limited, and that we must consider the performance and security impact of a new system or feature on our current operation, but does that mean we should raise the shields and block out anything that comes our way?

How many IT departments purposefully cripple the capabilities of their systems because allowing all the options would “confuse” the user, or might lead to somebody using a non-standard configuration? So what. The argument of confusing your users is becoming less and less valid. Sure there are lots of people out there that aren't tech literate. It isn't their job to be, it's ours. Give them the tools they need to do their job. Provide a set of standard supported options, but don't treat them like idiots. Most people are capable of learning the basics if you give them a chance and treat them with a bit of respect. And why not open up other options for those that want them. Let them use a different browser or email client. Will the world end if they use an instant messenger client or social network tool not approved by the IT department? Is it really hurting anything to enable those features that some users might wasnt to use even if you aren't going to actively support it?

Sure there will be problems. Security threats are real, but security concerns have become the great hobgoblin to used to frighten away any project that someone in IT doesn't want to implement. I've taken the approach of making sure I have good backups of important data, and treating my software as disposable. I think it is an approach that more corporate IT departments should take. Give the users a little bit of freedom. If they screw something up, just reimage their system. Don't get bogged down in supporting non standard software or configurations, but don't forbid them from trying them. You might just end up with happier users that don't hate the tech guys quite so much.

I've heard that there are a few companies beginning to head towards more open IT structures. I hope they meet with success and lead the way. Its time for IT to get over itself and start thinking more about how it can help people out and not so much about how they rule their domains with an iron fist.