In one of my earliest jobs, the IT department was positioned a few hundred feet away from the main site, in a building that was probably only fit for storing equipment and one where the only toilet was located in a dingy basement. In my view, IT was seen as less important than the other departments such as Finance and HR (they were in the main building) but that changed when the business began to utilise the IT systems. At that point, the IT department was moved into the main building and treated as equals.
In another role which was after the Millennium Bug issue, the IT dept was subject to more scrutiny as they were seen to have squandered money fixing an issue that did not materialise. The Head of IT had a reporting line to the Finance Director and although that ensured that IT expenditure was tightly controlled, a disadvantage was that the IT team felt disempowered and a ‘them and us’ culture developed. I am pleased to say that this was eventually resolved but it took a couple of years to build that mutual trust, which initially began when I started attending Board meetings as a ‘guest’ and that eventually became a common occurrence.
In a more recent role, the IT department had some of its 3rd party onsite 24x7 engineers working out of the basement, which can be likened to the conditions seen in the TV show the IT Crowd. This team was the only team located in the basement and although they were delivering a sufficient service, I felt that it could be improved if they were relocated. Even though I was unable to conclude that before I moved on, I did however get this area spruced up and they were given several hot desks to use on one of the main floors which resulted in a noticeable improvement.
I now work as a consultant assisting companies in improving their service delivery and I have witnessed a significant difference in the value placed on IT departments. More often than not, the most senior IT person is working directly with the Board and is given the mandate to establish IT as a core business enabler. I would go as far as to say that most companies now depend on IT for the success of their business models and that the companies that have the best IT departments are also the most successful companies.
The following key steps can help change the perception of IT:
- Dress like other departments so that you are not standing out as different
- Proactively provide suggestions that can help the business rather than being concerned about taking on extra work
- Avoid complacency by working in a manner where the business have a choice as to whether they use you or another service provider
- Regularly question whether you are providing value-add and what more can be done
- Become a master of communication which is often a weakness associated with IT departments
- Use metrics and KPIs to demonstrate successes and highlight where improvements are needed
- Ensure that budget being spent is seen as ‘expenditure’ with a ROI rather than simply a ‘cost’
- Treat the customer in the manner that you would personally want to be treated
- Do not isolate yourself from the customer and keep a presence on the same floor as the CEO, COO & CFO
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