Perception is Reality
The same goes for IT. Unless you are in IT, it looks easy. Google, et. al. make technology seem like it just "is"; that there is no massive back end to Gmail or Google docs or search. But we know that constant vigilance and thousands of people are required to make Google and all of their Internet brethren function so "effortlessly".
And therein lies one of the biggest obstacles IT faces when dealing with the business. It's a doubled edged sword: IT has to make things easier to keep their jobs but, in doing so, they are almost assured of being lambasted when the inevitable glitch occurs. They also have to live up to the consumer experience, which, even by Internet time standards, has outpaced corporate IT as the harbinger of innovation and change very quickly.
And like the great singer, no one cares how much practice and hard work it takes to get things right. If it looks easy, it is easy (or should be) and that is enough. When systems go down or slow down or don't play well together all most people care about is they can't do their jobs. That's it. They don't know or care that you don't have enough power, ping or pipe; that it's their fault for infecting the system; or all of your sys admins quit on the same day. It's like the great scene from the movie Goodfellas (I paraphrase): "Car broke down? FU. Pay me. Kid got sick? FU. Pay me. Business is slow? FU. Pay me."
As an IT professional, you have to put yourself in your customer's shoes if you want to truly understand what it is you do for a living. For example, do you care why your ATM doesn't work? That the ATM network is down? No. You just want your money. The same goes for everyone in your business. They have come to depend on you to do their jobs. Almost no one can function anywhere in the world without IT. This is because most higher level business functions at most companies in most parts of the world have been IT enabled in the last 20 years or so.
When you are surfing the Web or checking email from home you have the luxury of changing carriers or providers but when you are a captive client of internal IT, the irritations that would facilitate your move to a new provider just build up and build up. It doesn't matter that most of the time IT works just fine. It doesn't matter that you achieved five-nines years ago. It only matters that "it" doesn't work now or, even worse, my iPhone does "it" better.
Don't take my word for it. Many of the articles I publish on CIOUpdate.com and a lot of the CIOs, consultants, and other C-types I talk with echo this sentiment. Also, as a consumer of corporate IT services, I really can't do much if they don't function smoothly so I know how this feels.
If IT today is all about service, which I am constantly told it is, then maybe we should call the Help Desk, Customer Service, just like at any other organization. One thing is for sure, is we (I'm guilty of this myself) need to stop referring to the business folks as "users". There's something slightly unsettling about that term ... I'm not sure why.
It's my understanding that about 50 percent of IT folks don't even know what the company they work for does. Maybe IT just needs to get out of the data center and he NOC and mingle a little. Why not take some budget and put on an "Meet the Geek" after hours (at a nice place so folks will actually show up) where your staff and the people they support can get together and share some war stories about how the business really runs. This would be a great way to learn the work-arounds people have come up with to short circuit all the IT-enabled processes management has worked so hard to put in place (and look to you to enforce!).
Of course, none of this will alleviate one day of hard work that IT has to do to support the myriad systems that underpin the modern corporation but, at the least, you might just change the perception that IT doesn't "get it" and smooth the way for better relations between you and the business. If you can accomplish this then maybe your reality will change, too.
Allen Bernard is the managing editor of CIOUpdate.com, ITSMWatch.com, and ProjectManagerPlanet.com. In his 12 year career covering the intersection of business and technology he has interviewed over 5,000 executives, Ph.Ds, consultants, authors, technologists, futurists, and LOB managers, penned over 1,600 articles, and assigned and edited thousands more. He can be reached at email@example.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @cioupdate.