• United States

When all else fails, communicate

Sep 01, 20043 mins
Data Center

* Communication with users can make management easier

Although there are many daily technical challenges to face, it’s also true that many problems that IT folks have to deal with could be avoided through better communication.

This issue is not endemic to IT only – communications problems may permeate far and wide within companies. But let’s focus on IT here.

I understand that when you’re working feverishly to solve a critical problem, like one of your data centers is completely down, that the last thing that you want to think about is communicating. I agree that priority must be placed on solving critical problems.

However, I also believe that IT must place a priority on communicating proactively with users. Whether there is a user liaison within IT who is focused on this, or it’s just a change in approach within IT, there must be some kind of focus in this area.

Properly setting user expectations can head off potential “user” problems, particularly when you are making major changes in IT infrastructure. The art in all of this is communicating with the users so that they understand the scope of the undertaking and the potential risks. If you get their buy-in BEFORE making the changes, then if something goes wrong, they may be more apt to understand what you are facing and why. But if something stops working all of a sudden without any warning, they’re likely to get irate.

I know that this seems pretty basic, but it is more difficult in practice.

I recently had an experience that brought this topic to mind. A company was making a major change to its infrastructure. Although communication was done to explain what the changes were and when they would be made, the enormity of the change was not communicated. Most IT people would intuitively know the potential issues that such a major change might bring, but that information would escape most others. And it did. So rather than appreciating the accomplishments of this major undertaking with only minor issues resulting, users became focused on what was different than the way it used to be. It’s all a matter of perspective and perception.

The key to better communication with users is to put yourself in their shoes – assuming their lack of basic technical knowledge (if that is the case). Although there are many extroverts who love to communicate with others in the IT ranks, it is also a reality that there are many IT experts who don’t share this love of communication. So you have two choices, you either assign a “natural” communicator to interface to the users, or you set up practices within IT on user communication.

Believe it or not, improving communication with users can not only create better working relationships between IT and the users, but it may also improve IT’s value to the organization.

Although it’s easy to think that users are not intelligent life forms that possess the capability to fathom the complexities of fixing their problems, they still would like to have an inkling of communication as to the “cause” of their problem. 

The people side of IT support should be paid adequate attention, alongside technical excellence. Management extends beyond technology – the people factor oftentimes is more difficult than the technical.