ITKE Community Blog

Sep 3 2009   4:47PM GMT

Help user-IT relations with a party: So crazy it might just work

Michael Morisy Michael Morisy Profile: Michael Morisy

I received a number of responses to my post on whether Shakespeare would slice up the server admin if he were around today, both via e-mail and in the comments.

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.

So: What you have you found successful: Giving peace a chance or locking ’em down before they cause trouble? Let me know your thoughts at or in the comments below.

More on managing the user revolt:

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