Why IT needs better bedside manners

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Not everyone thinks luxury hotel when considering the service provided by the IT department. In fact service in relation to stud farm might be a closer analogy in the eyes of many users.

Patronising technologists, service level disagreements and help desk automatons that respond to all IT problems with the phrase “Reboot your computer” do little to suggest the IT department is there to provide a service.

The IT department can seem intolerant of others, giving the impression that their IT systems are wasted on technology lightweights (aka users).

Some technologists have yet to make the link between their remuneration and the satisfaction levels of the users, which is a weak foundation from which to build a service mindset.

This suggests there is considerable scope for improvement in respect of IT department service provision. So what can organisations do to elicit better service from the IT department?

One approach is to murmur “free market” and “Bangalore” within earshot of the CIO. This can be quite effective, but in direct correlation with the CIO’s adrenalin levels the service will revert to “normal” post shock. Another approach is to tune the IT department in respect of the following areas: New system development; Operational support; Process support; Innovation support.

Let’s look at each:

Development

Technologists need to tune their “clock speed” to that of the business so systems arrive when required and not a minute later. They similarly need to talk to users regularly to ensure the systems being built are in line with the real needs of the business. Ask the CIO to what extent they have adopted an “agile” approach to system development.

Operational support

Migrate the help desk from “organic voice mail” to “digital butler” by developing the advisory skills of the frontline IT staff. By digital butler I mean the equivalent of an account manager who exists to ensure customers are nothing short of delighted by their experience. Ideally the help desk would be in the same building rather than a different continent. Diminished IT service (and thus value) is an invisible cost of offshoring a helpdesk.

Process support

Invite the technologists to contribute to the business by asking their advice on business process optimisation. Companies might be surprised to find their technologists are more expert in the business processes and their interlinking than the business staff. Smart CIOs will play this card to stem the onslaught of offshoring, where the would-be supplier has no wisdom of how the business works in practice.

Innovation support

Encourage IT staff to explore how new technologies might be used to give competitive advantage. This requires thought because such activity generates more failure than success. In fact, fast failure is to be encouraged.

The associated key performance indicators might send mixed messages to the IT department and needs to be handled with care.

Improved performance in some or all of these areas will generate greater value for the business. But as doctors have discovered through experience over the years, good delivery with a poor bedside manner is perceived to be inferior to average service with a good bedside manner.

Smart doctors have learnt to create the maximum positive impact by developing their interpersonal skills with the same vigour as their medical skills. Technologists should be encouraged to do the same.

The challenge here is that most medical schools check for emotional intelligence prior to admitting medical students, whereas the IT faculty does not.

Thus grafting emotional intelligence skills on to some technologists will require nothing short of a personality transplant.

Universities need to play their part in addressing this now so businesses eventually have service-oriented IT staff.

And HR staff, along with the IT recruitment industry, need to provide filtering services to stem the wave of technologists that suffer from what might be called a user-intolerance.

Perhaps now is the time to consider bringing a medical team into the recruitment process to check for such a debilitating condition?

What do you think of the IT department? Have your say at www.ft.com/helpdesk. We will publish the highlights in the next FT Digital Business on May 31.

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