How IT departments can learn to say yes to end users

With proper planning and a forward looking approach IT departments no longer have to be the innovation nay-sayers.

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When it comes to new requests from business peers, IT organisations typically put on a happy face. From the CIO to the help desk, employees try hard to fit new systems into the context of the old, get changes onto the list of prioritised projects and get a grip on emerging technologies. But behind the smiles, let's face it: The job of an IT organisation is to protect information with standards, preserve prioritised investments and minimise risk.

In fact, to do the job has historically meant finding ways to keep smiling and still say no: We can't, we shouldn't and we won't. We don't support Treos when we have standardised on BlackBerry. And of course, saying no also left behind a prescriptive echo: Use this, wait for that and we'll be rolling out that portal or sales force automation system to your department...someday. But times have changed, and IT is poorly positioned to cling to the "it's our policy" and "that's our plan" refrains of yesteryear. From business execs to college interns, everybody in the enterprise wants what they want, whether or not it's within policy and plan. IT departments now have to figure out how to say yes more often.

So, you're asking, what the heck are we supposed to do when we can't keep loading new demands onto our already sagging plates? How are we supposed to know what users really want, anyway? The answer (fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your point of view) involves some wrenching behavioural and structural changes in IT.

The New End User

In the old days, the only way employees could access most software or hook up a new piece of hardware was with help. The exceptional super user was just that, super. Today, the list of tools an employee can use without IT help just takes your breath away. Between the USB slots in laptops, the boatload of social networking sites, hosted applications, open-source and easily downloaded tools, it's a new day in the office. Then there's the technology employees use at home, where many are running mini IT departments for their spouses and kids. Of course, Sue in accounting expects to be able to easily connect her work laptop to the Internet through her home wireless network.

The new end users ask for more things. But it's better for IT execs who don't want to say no to be tuned in enough to know what these users are about to ask. As Rich Fagan, CIO of CalTech, notes: "In a university setting, we know that when the Iphone shows up in the store, the next day faculty members will be looking for help, so we are prepared to try." On the day Microsoft Vista launched, the CIO of a large European airline sent an e-mail explaining why the airline's rollout won't be for at least a year.

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