When it Comes to IT Value User Opinion Doesn't Matter - Page 2

Mar 1, 2010

Hank Marquis

Things go from bad to worse when customers hand over such decision making to IT. When customers abdicate responsibilities, and IT assumes these responsibilities, there is very little chance that either will be satisfied.

Customers should listen to users and make sure they properly equip them with services from IT. Customers should interact directly with IT as they do with every other branch of the organization.

Many argue that IT is simply too technical for business leaders to comprehend. This is a condescending and shallow position on both sides. While many customers will not or cannot take responsibility for properly defining requirements, most customers have never even met or talked with IT staff and management. Few have made any effort at all to really understand what his or her users really need to be successful, let alone how IT operates. The CEO often goes to ribbon cuttings, and drops by the Sales department to checkup, or visits Marketing to provide input for advertising. When was the last time a CEO “dropped by” the data center, or the VP of Sales visited the service desk?

Abdication Does Not Mean Assumption

I know what some of you are right now thinking: "That's exactly why we ask customers and users what they want, we collect requirements and build or customize to suite." And I say that is why you constantly hear customers complaining about the very IT systems that they (the customers) have approved!

Abdication of responsibility by customers and assumption of that responsibility by IT does not and cannot solve the problem. In fact, it is precisely the cause of the “IT problem” so many have right now. We in IT cannot mandate the relationship between customer and user, nor can we direct customers to do the job they ought to do. However, we might be able to facilitate it through measuring service quality requirements from a human (e.g., user) point of view. We could then provide this information to the customer to help with their decision-making regarding IT funding. If we in IT could move off technical operational metrics and develop true quality of experience measurements, customers could understand the options and make more informed decisions.

Yet, even this is fraught with issues. Consider what happens if the customer decides they do not care if users like the systems they approve. Most users hate the IT systems they have, and not for any reason IT can control. Think about sales people – the backbone of many corporations. Any good salesperson has a network of buyers they have assembled over time. Often this network is why the company hired him or her in the first place. The last thing such a sales person wants to do is input all that valuable and hard-won information into a company database. It is their livelihood after all and if they leave the company, why should the contacts he or she fought so hard to gain remain with the company after they leave?

For this reason many sales people (not all of course) hate sales systems, all sales systems. These types actively circumvent the tools provided. They invent faults and weaknesses in order to justify not using them. They complain about the sales system and support that IT provides. Does this user opinion and dissatisfaction mean the service is of low quality? Does it mean IT is not doing its job? In addition, if the customer does not care if his or her users like it or not, should IT care about user opinion? How should IT handle these users? What is the role of IT in this scenario?

Time for Change

Of course, we all "care", but we should not and must not exceed our authority and try to take action on our own to "fix" the situation. What we should do is try to create an environment where customers can interact easily with IT instead of abdicating, or worse, undermining IT operations with studied disinterest except when things go wrong. It is our responsibility to develop a means of working with our customers, engaging them and giving them the tools required to make effective decisions.

What would happen if IT measured user satisfaction in human, job-based terms and had rational conversations with customers about the findings? Forget about inside the data center technical metrics – few customers will ever have time or inclination to interpret such techno-babble. Think instead about an "outside-in" approach based on actual quality of experience. Instead of speeds-and-feeds how about human-based, emotional, functional job metrics. How different would things be if users were accountable to their customers based on knowledge provided by IT? Imagine the business improvements possible with an empowered and engaged customer.

Finally, let us not forget that customers are 50 percent of the service equation, and that any effective service requires customer and producer to work together. Customers must take proactive responsibility for their consumption of IT as well as their users. You do not have to learn to speak "IT", but you do need to take the time to help IT show you the ramifications of your decisions in business terms. Visit the data center, attend some IT meetings, swing by the service desk, make the effort to engage and we will meet you more than half-way.

Hank Marquis is practice leader for Business Service Management at Global Knowledge. You can reach Hank at

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