Human Nature And Nature Of IT

John Kirk / October 17th, 2013

“It is human nature that rules the world, not governments and regimes.”~Svetlana Alliluyeva

It is in our nature to think that what works best for us is what works best for the company we work for. We work very hard at making our jobs more efficient, easier to do, rationalizing that we’re making the company more efficient too.

But our REAL job is to help our customers, not ourselves. We are tasked with absorbing the complexity of life so that our customers can enjoy life’s simple pleasures.

CAVEAT: I’m about to lambaste IT departments. Again, I’m not picking on them alone. We all do this. It’s human nature. It’s just a question of 1) recognizing what we’re doing; and 2) taking measures to make things better.

During the nineties and aughts, IT departments – quite naturally and quite understandably – forgot who their real customers were; forgot the real jobs that they were hired to do. IT’s internal customers were the company’s employees and IT’s job was to make the lives of those employees easier. Instead, IT came to believe – as so many of us do – that making their own lives easier was their job. Employees were not viewed as internal customers to be helped and assisted, rather, the company’s employees were more often viewed as adversaries to be feared and resisted.

What Employees Want

Employees want technology that is best suited to do the job that needs to be done. They want the ease of use that leads to a superior user experience. Yes, they want technology to enhance their lives, but mostly, they want technology to get out of their way so that they can get their jobs done.

What IT Wants

Corporate IT departments do not focus on the things that are important to their internal clients. They focus on things like costs, measurements and controls.

Costs

Corporate IT departments need to justify their purchases. They’re very focused on costs, often to the exclusion of benefits. They look at speeds and feeds and other features; they weigh the various benefits; they make a decision and, in most instances, that decision is primarily a financial one.

There is hardly anything in the world that some man can’t make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and the people who consider price only are this man’s lawful prey.~John Ruskin

Measurements

Corporate IT departments need to document and measure their purchases. IT cares little about things that cannot be measured.

For instance, how does one properly measure quality, look-and-feel, attention to detail, and design? Answer: one doesn’t.

Further, IT is not the end user. How much, then, do they care about the user experience, how a product feels, whether it eliminates small annoyances, how easy it is to modify or whether it’s delightful to use? Answer: Not much.

Unmeasurable and unnoticed benefits are simply disregarded. The decision comes down to cost and features and the unquantifiable bits simply don’t enter into the decision making process.

To IT, “good enough” is not just good enough. It’s ideal.

Control

If there’s one thing that IT knows about computers, it’s that the corporate employee knows nothing about computers.

“You can’t make anything idiot-proof because idiots are so ingenious.”~Ron Burns

IT is a firm believer in Murphy’s Law.

If anything can go wrong, it will.
~Murphy’s Law


And IT well knows that things can go from bad to worse in a hurry.

“To err is human but to really foul things up you need a computer.”~Paul Ehrlich

The last thing IT wants to give you is something new, powerful and powerfully dangerous.

Generals like to fight the last generation’s wars. IT likes to fight with the last generation of computers and computer software.

IT wants control. And it fears loss of control – to the employees – most of all.

Corporate IT Systems and cathedrals are much the same – first we build them, then we pray.”~Unknown

The War Or Priorities

It’s a war of priorities and, since it’s a Civil War, everyone loses.

The difference between IT and an employee is that an employee will pay two dollars for a one-dollar item that they want and IT will pay one dollar for a two-dollar item than they don’t want.

IT has no respect for the intelligence of its internal customers.

“Don’t explain computers to laymen. Simpler to explain sex to a virgin.”~Robert A. Heinlein

Employees become unhappy.

“I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.”~P. G. Wodehouse

IT treats employees with disdain.

“It’s not our fault. It’s an ID ten T problem (ID10T).”

Employees become more and more frustrated with the technology they are using.

For a list of all the ways technology has failed to improve the quality of life, please press three.~Alice Kahn

IT stops listening – if they ever listened in the first place.

I have heard your views. They do not harmonize with mine. The decision is taken unanimously. ~ Charles de Gaulle

Employees begin to deeply resent and then mock IT’s decisions.

“Yo operating system so ugly it makes blind men cry.”

IT becomes ever more inscrutable and byzantine.

I called IT and asked for help. They referred me to the self-help section. When I asked them where the self-help section was, they said that if they told me, it would defeat the purpose.

Employees begin to fight back by undermining and sabotaging the system.

“If you can’t join them, beat them.”

— Employees want IT to change and are disappointed when they stay the same.
— IT wants employees to stay the same and are disappointed when they change.

Your Real Job

“I always advise people never to give advice.” P. G. Wodehouse

Again, your real job is to make the lives of your customers better, not to make your job easier.

People cannot be managed. Inventories can be managed, but people must be led.
—H. Ross Perot

IT and the employees are part of a team, like two oars in a row boat. If you don’t work together, you just end up going around in circles.

“In all human affairs, the wisest course is to be passionate about the role of reason and reasonable about the role of passion.”~Dr. Mardy’s Aphorisms

Remember, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”~Charles Darwin

“Some people like my advice so much that they frame it upon the wall instead of using it.” – Gordon R. Dickson

John Kirk

John R. Kirk is a recovering attorney. He has also worked as a financial advisor and a business coach. His love affair with computing started with his purchase of the original Mac in 1985. His primary interest is the field of personal computing (which includes phones, tablets, notebooks and desktops) and his primary focus is on long-term business strategies: What makes a company unique; How do those unique qualities aid or inhibit the success of the company; and why don’t (or can’t) other companies adopt the successful attributes of their competitors?
  • DarwinPhish

    I have been on both sides of the great IT department/User divide at small and large organizations, so I agree with many of your specific comments and observations. However, I disagree with your statement: “IT’s internal customers were the company’s employees and IT’s job was to make the lives of those employees easier”

    IT’s customers are primarily the management or executives of a company and their job is to implement the solutions they want with the resources they are give. When IT is evaluated on items like up-time or network security, it should be no surprise that user needs are not always met. When users want MacBooks but there is only money in the budget for Acers, its not really IT’s fault users don’t like their laptops.

    Yes, a lot of IT departments become insular and start to focus on their own needs. That is not uncommon with other groups in large organizations or with people who become demoralized. More often than not, the conflict between IT and users is a direct result of the fact that the people paying the bills and the people being supported are often not the same. Though it may seem so, very few companies are run by their IT departments.

    • FalKirk

      “IT’s customers are primarily the management or executives of a company…” – DarwinPhish

      I would say that management is IT’s boss, but the employees are IT’s internal customers. IT is hired by, and answers to, their bosses, but their mission is to enhance the computing prowess of the employees. Instead, IT becomes a barrier to advancement in order to make their lives easier.

      As I said, all quite natural. Not picking on IT. We all do it.

  • Matang_Lawin

    Finally John, you brought something else new into the table. I I Love this article on IT-Employees love-hate relationship and how IT is clueless most of the time.

    BTW, how come you didn’t quote Charles Darwin on your last sentence?

    Keep writing about new things mate. 😀

    • FalKirk

      “how come you didn’t quote Charles Darwin on your last sentence?” – Matang_Lawin

      Meant to. Fixed.

      Thanks for the heads up. 🙂

  • Brian

    The BYOD trend is interesting. It worries me that Apple is getting popular in the workplace. If that continues, Apple will be as uncool as Microsoft.

    • FalKirk

      “It worries me that Apple is getting popular in the workplace. If that continues, Apple will be as uncool as Microsoft”.~Brian

      You’ve missed the point of my article. IT was incentivize to buy good enough products. Employees are incentivized to buy emotionally satisfying products. So long as employees are driving the bus, work products will remain “cool”.

  • N8nnc

    The quip about the self-help section was by Steven Wright (re: a bookstore)

    Perhaps one typo? “like two oars a row boat” missing “of” or “on”?

    My early experience with IT is they’ll something can’t be done, where the honest answer is “anything can be done – what are you willing to pay?”. Once forced into action, they take the first step – achieve consistency – then stop before getting to the next – do good/ produce value. They never envision the last step – seek continuous improvement.

    • FalKirk

      Thanks. I added a word to fix the sentence regarding the oars.

      My source for the self-help quote didn’t have attribution. I’ve seen it attributed to George Carlin. But I love Stephen Wright. One of my favorites. Wouldn’t be at all surprised if it was one of his.

  • Quicksingle

    Idiots are ingenious – love this one

    • jfutral

      No sooner do you make something idiot proof, someone makes a better idiot.

      Joe

  • IT Equals Nazis

    Excellent article and so, so true. I hope I live to see the utter annihilation and BYODamnation of the IT trolls and thugs that infest every enterprise IT dept on the planet. Most of them are dumb as a bag of hammers and as self righteously pompous as your average traffic cop.

  • Bhaskar

    “Your operating system so ugly it makes blind men cry.”
    I wanted to share a story but hardly anyone around understood, and I hope some readers can understand. In my workplace, we were given Lenovo All-In-One PCs. For some reason, my PC started to experience the famouse Windows Blue Screen of Death at least once day. I requested for a change of computer and IT changed to one so called newer version. But the new PC had ridiculously bad, TV screen type display which turned most soft/cooler window panes and task bars to bright and ugly borders. Bottom task bar was white and bright so also every other application such as IE or MS Office. It was simply impossible to look at the screen for more than 15 minutes, because the display was so bright even at least screen brightness as the whole display mechanism was like TFT Television. I could show the difference by comparing with the next desk PC but IT was in no mood to listen. Mouse was so bad that, within a month it used to give double click for single click. IT guys hardly have any openness to understand the problems. Worst is not this!
    Worst is when they said, ‘latest IE explorer has securities issues and bugs, so use IE 6’, and we used IE 6 until IE 9 became norm across the globe! My understanding was/is – iterative software upgrades are meant for improved features, security, usefulness and most importantly, bug fixes.

  • Mauryan

    IT professionals need a training in sociology and how to interface with end users. I have seen many IT techies talking tech jargon when going to them with issues on software or network issues or PC issues. Many think everyone knows the IT jargon and sometimes treat non-IT employees like idiots. Geeks lack people skills. It is no wonder many land on the IT side of jobs. One reason people inherently like Apple products over Microsoft’s is because Apple knows how to make the common user happy by keeping the jargon out. Microsoft made products not for consumers, but IT. That tells the difference. Simple is what humans like the most.

    • FalKirk

      “IT professionals need a training in sociology”

      It’s really more about motivations than personality. IT people, just like the rest of us, do what they’re are incentivized to do. But that’s not their job.

      So, the incentives, not IT, need to change.

  • aardman

    Line vs. staff. So many companies and organizations get into trouble when staff people begin to think that their jobs and functions are more important than the line people’s. The function of IT, like any other staff function, is to provide support for the line function so that the line people might do their jobs more effectively. Period, full stop. In the most successful companies, IT understands their role and they move heaven and earth to deliver what the line people ask for.

  • unhinged

    “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.” — Albert Einstein

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