Across the world IT departments or their management are thinking to themselves. What are we doing next? That’s of course if they haven’t been thinking about it already. An IT strategy is a hugely important part of planning out the projects and targets you should be working to, however quite often I’ve often wondered who was setting them. The biggest problem I see is that IT is set by people to high level or too separated for the day to day to understand the impact of new technology and often hear the complaints of staff and teams of what often feels like a left turn in the corporate approach to IT.
Take my wife’s company; she works for what can be called a large consultancy who have like many of their ilk based their email, planning and collaboration around the use of IBM notes (formally Lotus notes) and this is a technology and tool her team are adept at using. To store files, they used in house developed filing systems and tools that were effective in keeping their client information in an ordered fashion.
Last year they decided to ditch it for Google apps. The last 18 months have been harrowing for users of notes and in-house filing; Google lacks the functionality that has been used day to day for over 10 years their file storage doesn’t have the bespoke functionality of decades of storing customer information for the consultancies day to day. Sure, it’s probably cheaper but when making the decision to go Google did the decision makers have their workers or their costs in mind? What informed that decision?
It’s hard not to be slightly selfish when you build an IT strategy, as a player manager of sorts part of me can’t help but want to play with the latest technology and be able to talk to my peers at other companies about the bleeding edge software and hardware I’ve been using but does that really help my colleagues?
In your company why did you chose that technology?
It’s a great question and a lot of it will have obvious answers, we chose Microsoft because of active directory and its ubiquity, we chose Debian because we like its stability and need to run a LAMP stack. These are easily answers but it gets more difficult when you say we chose SAP over Sage200 or AWS over Azure unless you answer boils down to cost of course. So how do you decide?
I speak to staff, I hold a meeting with every team in the company for an hour and in a completely informal way ask what can IT do for you? Where doesn’t IT work? What slows you down? The insight is quite interesting because now you can get something you will miss from a more typical talk to the managers/directors/partners only you get the insight of the typical day to day of other staff and ultimately that is Its job, to enable staff to do theirs effectively and efficiently.
You learn a lot with this style of meeting, not only do you finally understand what that team on floor three do but you can get into the minutia of role in a way that you might not have before and begin to build a picture of some of the fringe cases that you might not ever been aware of which can lead to interesting discussions and new ideas. However, you should heed this warning that you also shouldn’t get bogged down in them either if they won’t impact anyone else.
A great example of this is something that I had happen to me recently in one of these meetings; a member of our finance team highlighted a manual process they were having to run for a special type of invoice. Because of a proprietary system (we must use) cannot talk to Sage they had to generate 30 manual invoices and then combine them as a result this meaning we spent an hour writing a short program to perform the merge. An hour meeting an hours coding and we have saved the company nearly 20 hours a month of work. Had we just spoken to our finance manager and directory this wouldn’t have been surfaced.
Finally, you can enhance listening to other staff in these meetings using techniques such as ‘Active Listening’, which tends do be used by counsellors but it’s an excellent technique to use as it helps turn off the part of your mind that wants to inject your own solution to someone else’s problem who will eventually of up their own solution. This in turn can have positive effects on staff moral as it empowers them even if you make the final decision and this is really a benefit to all and it all starts with a bit of listening.