Wayne M., an IT Director in Needham, Mass., had little patience for uppity users:
I can’t speak for anybody else’s company, but the users at my company (with very very few exceptions) seem about as technology challenged as possible! And to say that they can manage their security better than IT? We spend much of our time installing desktop and network security protection to keep them from shooting us in the foot!
On top of that, most of the user community that I know might be technical at home, but want to have nothing to do with it at work! They aren’t paid enough! I’ve been told that to my face time and time again. “You guys in IT get the big bucks! Why should I know how to handle a (simple) PC problem?!”
Let’s stop dreaming and come back to Earth.
Others were a little more forgiving, with Nottslanding suggesting that a peace could be brokered, based on her own experience with an annual mixer that went a long way towards breaking down the red tape between IT and the users they serve:
The first one was staged as part of a Halloween costume day in a rather “straight” company. We convinced the uppermost management that since a significant part of their operating budget went to technology costs and there was often grumbling about that outside the technology “silo”, maybe the customers didn’t understand how that money was spent. Likewise, as the mainframe systems technology manager (not applications), hearing the grumbling from my staff about sudden changes in priorities, or “unlimited” use of valuable resources, or introduction of new technology that hadn’t been blessed by Tech Support, convinced me that the techies weren’t really aware of the driving business requirements. Almost no one below the top executive officers had ever been in the highly secured computer room.
The operations staff had a wonderful time decorating the computer center. Their first theme was the “hazards” of being a computer operator, enhanced by clever placement of straw dummies – e.g. a dummy squished by a huge roll of printout paper, one mostly covered in tape cartridges from a rack under which a floor panel had collapsed, the legs of a cable puller crawling under the raised floor, and a
dummy, totally covered by paper, except for its legs, in the recycle bin (among other things). Each small group of people was escorted through the data center by a technical person. The technical people started by finding out which systems the tour group supported, and most of the operators knew what resources those systems used. The customers had NO idea of all that went on back there. Meanwhile, just by being face-to-face, both parties got to see the people they sometimes communicated with, or whose names became linked to applications. Most the computer people didn’t really know what some of those applications did, and the visitors were encouraged to fill them in. There at the last station – just before they were led into the telephone switch part of the computing facility, the dummy in the recycle bin suddenly sat up, as if startled and awakened from a nap. That drew both screams and laughter. We even got the CEO on camera at the surprise!
On the day of the event, the Data Center managers all came dressed in “grunge”. We’d done a Saturday shopping trip to all the Goodwill stores to get our outfits. On the morning of, we assembled ourselves in costume, and arrived as a group. An elderly couple getting into our elevator, chose not to ride with us. Before we did anything else, we crashed an Executive meeting, with an entry something like “we’re the data center and we’ve got your data. If you want it back, you have to spring for the refreshments.” – which they did.
That was certainly NOT a dull meeting. The size of the tour groups got larger throughout the first day, as it was recommended among peers. A good time was had by all.
As I mentioned, it became an annual event (different themes, of course, which were always arranged by the operators who almost never got out of the computer room). All the executives extolled its success, especially since they got such positive feedback from all the different departments (as did the Data Center). Response grew so that we had to schedule Halloween tours. The production services personnel (the ones who provided the human interface with input/output and distribution at the data center) set up the tour schedules. The customers got to see the life cycle of a “trouble ticket”, presented by the folks at the help desk. The “techy geeks” actually knew quite a few of the customers because they were always in the trenches fixing customers’ problems. The techs introduced the customers to all the work they normally do in addition to direct customer support, explaining how “maintenance” interruptions and new hardware and software provided stability and new functionality for systems. The managers of each of those groups took care of setting the focus for each year so it wouldn’t be the same old stuff every year.
And as an offshoot, from then on, every Halloween became a costume day throughout the HQ building.
More on managing the user revolt:
- GMail fails, but will Google Guerrillas back down?
- Would Shakespeare slice up the server admin?
- Is your IT department fighting Google guerillas?
Greg Schulz is an author and storage infrastructure analyst whose blog, StorageIO, revolves around topics such as resource management, the green data center, and clustered storage, among many others. Congratulations, Greg, on being our featured IT Blogger of the Week!
After a great showing in our Flip UltraHD Knowledge Point contest, we’re happy to announce the four winners:
Congratulations to our winners, and to all who participated. It was a tight race! If you didn’t make it into the top four, don’t worry — we have a new contest coming up very shortly. Stay tuned!
I just posted yesterday about the dangers of ditching IT for Google, and the Big G makes the point better than I ever could: GMail, the 3rd most popular web e-mail service, went down today for a while, with spotty communication as to why and little information in terms of problem resolution.
Now, GMail and Google’s other services likely have better uptime than many IT organizations, but as the author of TechCrunch’s article noted, Googles Guerrillas were having a tough time:
I use Apps For Domain for everything – my contacts, my email, my todo list, my chat, my documents and more recently, my phone. As soon as it went down, I noticed in less than a second. I am now completely stuck, after a few months of being impressed by how I was able to run my entire life on Google.
It is not just the frontend that is down, but also the backend IMAP and POP servers (Update: they are up, but slow). This is a huge fail for Google, considering how admired they are for all the technology they have built internally to scale out their applications.
Most IT organizations would at least provide prioritization of business critical services, along with a trouble ticketing system to assess what is down where. With GMail, on the rare occasion it does go down, it goes down in a very big way.
I can’t help but wonder: If Shakespeare were writing today, about office life instead of aristocratic foibles, what kind of barbs would he lob at IT? I suspect it wouldn’t be pretty.
His (in)famous call to “kill all the lawyers” surely drew a laugh then, but maybe now he’d urge us to flay the helpdesk or roast the server tech. He certainly wouldn’t be alone.
Millions of workers around the world are in the same straits: They’ve heard about the joys of Firefox, the wonders of Google Docs, or any number of other great programs or Web sites that might improve how they work. Indeed, they use these apps at home all the time, and they love them. But at work they’re stymied by the IT department, that class of interoffice Brahmins that decides, ridiculously and capriciously, how people should work. …
In the information age, most companies’ success depends entirely on the creativity and drive of their workers. IT restrictions are corrosive to that creativity—they keep everyone under the thumb of people who have no idea which tools we need to do our jobs but who are charged with deciding anyway.
Ok, so there’s worse libels than interoffice Brahman (which is actually kind of growing on me), but this comes after Google’s similar call for a user revolt. The popular BBC sitcom The IT Crowd portrays its protagonists as social outcasts lead by a clueless IT management drone (see below).
Can’t IT just do its job without some uppity journalist telling them they don’t know what they’re doing?
Because while there are legitimate gripes about treating workers like adults, there are more serious dangers of losing sensitive information. Thumb drives, for example, are generally considered as simple a technology as they come, and workers clamor for them trying to port files from home and work computers to, you know, get their job done. Trying to do an approved file move over a VPN network takes orders of magnitude longer, so why would anyone ban them? Because lost or stolen thumb drives happen all the time. And even if they’re finding USB drives, users just aren’t particularly savvy. And as for the call to allow free-for-all on instant messaging, our very own Nathan Simon just wrote about a new Trojan targeting Skype users: What happens when ne’er do wells get access to an executive conference call? You can be sure that IT will be held responsible for the technology the executive’s nephew helped implement.
There’s plenty more deconstruction and critique of the article over at DVICE but, for all the technical nuance that the Slate article misses, it catches on to a very real demand: Users want their freedom, and they want it now. Two years ago, executives started demanding their iPhones despite security and technical concerns, but now more users are demanding their own tools, and like Farhad, they’ll use them whether you like it or not. What can and should IT do to meet them halfway?
I suspect, like with so much in IT, there’s no one real answer. While columnists will happily proclaim “Tear down this wall!” regarding IT restrictions, each shop is different, and some restrictions are outside IT’s control. The “No Fun” restrictions Farhad cites, for example, often come straight from a CEO tired of seeing half an office’s monitors tuned to Facebook or EBay. While you ponder your strategy, I’ve included a snippet from the IT Crowd below. If you’re struck by any insights or would like to share you how you met your users halfway in restoring IT sanity (or even how you quashed a user rebellion), let me know in the comments or via e-mail. I’ll keep your name and affiliation private if you’d like.
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If you missed yesterday’s live chat with Microsoft’s virtualization gurus, we’ll have a copy of the the transcript up next week. Overall, the ITKnowledgExchange community gave them a good grilling, asking Edwin Yuen, senior product manager for Microsoft, almost a 100 questions about Hyper-V, how Microsoft’s offerings stack up against VMWare and whether he could convince a VMWare lover to switch over (A: “Not in an online chat forum, but I can tell you that with R2, we have expanded our capabilities to really enhance the value for an organization”).
We’ve got more coverage of the virtualization scene over at sister site SearchVirtualization.com, where they’ve tackled Hyper-V Live Migration case studies and taken an in-depth look at Hyper-V R2’s features beyond Live Migration (Note: Free registration required for the latter two links).
But just as Microsoft’s decided to give (Hyper-V), so they’ve decided to take away, as the Washington Post’s Brian Krebs reports:
Windows users who have Automatic Updates turned on probably have by now noticed at least one new update available from Redmond. The patch represents the next phase of the Office Genuine Advantage (OGA) anti-piracy pilot program Microsoft launched last year. Microsoft says the update is being gradually rolled out to different countries, so the update will not be available to everyone at the same time.
The program checks against Office XP, Office 2003, and Office 2007 installations.
Hopefully Windows has unsnarled some of the problems WGA has given systems administrators in the past, but best case scenario it’s one more thing for busy IT staffs to look out for. If you run into our problems, post them in the forums or let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, and we’ll do our best to find a workaround or solution.
Healthcare, education, civil rights and labor reform were the pillars of Sen. Ted Kennedy (D.–Mass.) during his 47-year political career, but the senator also played a key role in shaping U.S. technology policy, from ensuring adequate computers were in schools to pushing for Net Neutrality to being the first U.S. senator to communicate with constituents over the Internet. An impressive list, particularly for someone whose career started just two years after the first televised presidential debate, between his brother Senator John F. Kennedy and and Vice President Richard Nixon.
Below are some tech highlights from Ted Kennedy’s storied career. If you know of any others, feel free to leave a note in the comments or e-mail me at email@example.com and I’ll add them to the list.
- May 1993: Tells system administrator Chris Casey, “If you can find a way for me to reach constituents using computer networks, do it.” Casey then sets up a bulletin board for the Senator, the first such Senate presence on the Web. (source)
- May 1994: Senator Kennedy becomes first U.S. senator with an official web site. (source)
- February 1996: Voted in favor of telecommunications deregulation. (source)
- January 2001: Member of the Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee, meant to promote the growth and advancement of the Internet and maximize the openness of and participation in government by the people. (source)
- January 2002: No Child Left Behind passed, including the Enhancing Education Through Technology Program (EETT), which appropriated over $260 million in fiscal year 2008 to high schools for technology grants and training.
- 2006: In Massachusetts, Kennedy helps open a NASA Explorers School, bringing NASA research directly into the curriculum of an underserved community.(source)
- September 2006: Senator Kennedy comes out strongly in favor of Net Neutrality in an official YouTube post (see below), calling it “a critical issue of our day.”
- May 2009: Successfully lobbied for a $25 million investment in wind blade technology testing. (source)
- Summer 2009: Kennedy champions health care reform, a key component of which is modernizing medical systems to reduce waste and cut costs. (source)
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Here are the most current numbers in our Flip UltraHD Knowledge Point contest. The top 10 point holders as of Monday, August 24th are:
- Carlosdl: 4640
- BlankReg: 4085
- Philpl1jb: 3465
- Labnuke99: 2665
- Technochic: 1955
- Mrdenny: 1610
- Mshen: 1375
- Nnf97: 1030
- CharlieBrowne: 955
- Whatis23: 835
- Voodoovw: 735
The Flip contest ends on August 30th; there’s still time to pull ahead and nudge into one of the top four spots! Visit the blog post for all the details, and good luck to all who are participating.
An article on Harvard Business Review tackled a very real problem today: Cutting through the inevitable corporate cruft to simplify your work day and get your job done. But the recipe the article’s author, Ron Ashkenas, has cooked up sounds like one designed to create more conflict than anything else:
How many times have you gone to a meeting that lacked an agenda or a clear set of objects — and didn’t do anything about it? How often have you received unnecessary email or reports — but didn’t let the senders know that they were clogging up your inbox? How often have you sat through a presentation with too many slides, unclear points, and too much data — but didn’t provide any feedback to the presenter? And how often have you been the perpetrator of these complexity-causing behaviors without anyone pushing back on you?
We all allow these things to happen. Often, we’re guilty of doing them. But since most people dislike confrontation, we let things slide. It’s an unspoken conspiracy: “I won’t challenge you if you won’t challenge me.” The net result is that we unwittingly create a culture of complexity.
Ok, boring presentations are a waste of time, but isn’t finger pointing and clique building (The second piece of advice: Build an informal “simplicity support group” of like-minded peers) what wastes the most corporate time in the first place? Tell your boss he’s clogging up your inbox or berate a subordinate for making “unclear points” and using “too much data,” and you’re pretty much guaranteed to violate the No Asshole Rule, and employees will spend more time grumbling than getting things done.
Fortunately, there’s a lot of solid productivity advice out there, and ITKnowledgeExchange and its sister TechTarget sites have a number of tips to give you a Conan the Barbarian-like focus on the task at hand. I’ve culled through the archives plus some reader suggestions to get you started:
- Trust your subordinates. As Yusuf Salwati reminds us, just because you can do everything doesn’t mean you should. He advises executives hire a skilled personal assistant to screen e-mails and phone calls, make travel arrangements and keep you organized. But even if you don’t have the money or position for a personal assistant, it’s important to trust others to do their job, even if they’re doing it differently than you would.
- Collaborate smarter. Karen Guglielmo noted that not finding information costs companies $3,300 per year per employee! The problem isn’t too much data, it’s not having the right data in the right place at the right time. And if you don’t believe IDC’s data, Eric Golden, CEO of Equipios, said his company has saved $65,000 savings in recurring costs by better tapping into collaborative tools.
- Results first. Don’t forget what you, or your company, are there for. As Caroline Hunter reported, last year’s Usenix conference attendees were in an uproar over shoddily thought-out “productivity” tools. One worker complained he “had to take five hours to complete a report, then include those five hours in the report,” Hunter wrote.
- It’s about time. Peter Radizeski suggested a timer, a simple tool Google uses to keep meetings on track. Jonathan Lieberman and Yaw Etse had similar thoughts, suggesting reading The Four-Hour Work Week for advice on cutting out pointless meetings and mindless distractions while pursuing your goals — without annoying the rest of your company. Julie Geng had similar thoughts, suggesting users unplug from the Internet to stay focused. Meanwhile, Eric Anderson suggests shifting your work to the most productive hours (in his case, the evening).
So, workaday warrior, what are your tips for hacking through red tape and, against your company’s best efforts, being truly productive? Share in the ITKE forums or e-mail me your productivity horror stories and triumphs. I’d love to hear and share them.
Google’s “Go Google” campaign is well underway, having kicked off at the beginning of the month with a series of plus-sized billboards in strategic cities, the now almost mandatory Twitter hashtag campaign and some major customer announcements, including Motorola’s mobile devices unit. The must cunning strike, however, might be a series of cheeky, innocuous-seeming posters:
It’s not quite inciting an all-out user revolt, but anonymous postering, cryptic typewriter text and the imperative demands all break the mold in how IT projects are usually handled: It’s more V for Vendetta than white paper analysis and staged roll outs.
Have you felt the heat from users? Does it strike you as a cry for freedom from clunky, expensive apps or a call to IT anarchy? I’m curious as to your thoughts, either in the comments below, to firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @morisy. In the meantime, perhaps V himself can give voice to those guerrilla user’s demands:
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