October 2002

What is the purpose of an IT (Information Technology) Department?

The answer should be obvious. The way things are supposed to work, an IT Dept. is supposed to implement whatever data-processing capabilities are necessary to make computers transparent to the users. If a task is worth computerizing, it is worth computerizing properly. That means no monkey business -- no user should have to worry about file locations, manual backups, file synchronization, security, file transfer, culling out "old" files to make room for new ones, remote access, or any of the other "chores" that come with the conversion of manual pen-and-paper work to a computerized, digital format.

With a properly functioning IT Department, users should never have to beg or pay individual application vendors for support. Users should spend their time using an application, not calling the vendor for installation instructions, or struggling with obscure Web protocols to make VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) or other data-access portals work properly. While no user should have to pay out of his or her pocket to purchase, install, or support hardware or software, the well-managed IT Department allows for this option, providing support for printers, storage devices, and other external equipment that the user and/or manager deems necessary to enhance productivity and data transparency.

This is the concept of the "internal customer," that is, the idea that it is IT's job to be responsive and compliant to the needs of the user, NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND.

IT Departments should provide a service, but in too many cases IT is simply "the tail that wags the dog." I know of one large telecom company which uses a critical line-of-business application that runs only on Sun workstations. The company approves and pays for the Sun workstations and the software application, but the support ends at that point. It becomes the user's responsibility to cable the workstation to the network, figure out the access protocols, contact the vendor to establish online support, and manually configure and maintain the application. Files containing important engineering data must be manually transferred to Windows-based servers for postprocessing and report generation, since the IT Department claims that it only supports Windows and Windows applications.

The way things are supposed to work, users and their managers determine which application(s) is/are needed to best perform their work. It is then the responsibility of the IT Department to make it happen. The user should not be required to become his or her own IT Department, enduring the rebuke and the snide comments from IT personnel about "non-standard" or "legacy" products. It is the IT personnel who should be adding to their skillsets and their IT expertise, NOT THE ENDUSERS.

But beyond the issue of supporting more than one platform, the properly run IT Department must have its support synchronized to match whatever computing regime the company implements. For example, if the company provides notebook computers to some of its staff, IT should provide automatic file synchronization and data backup and restore for every notebook PC. If and when that PC is logged onto the corporate LAN, the user should have a one-button option to backup the entire portable to an appropriate storage location on the LAN. No computer should exist as a "data island," lacking critical backup or file-version functions.

Perhaps you question the value of such complex features, thinking they are "fancy" or "lavish?" Is it too expensive to implement such transparency and simplicity? Then consider the costs of not doing so. One major corporation provided only a notebook PC to a key manager. After he combined lists of land acquisitions from his subordinates to meet a tight deadline, his notebook PC failed. All data on the hard drive disappeared. The IT Department had not provided file backup or file synchronization between the notebook PC and the corporate LAN. They also did not provide data recovery services for notebooks PCs, despite the fact that notebooks were required for managers. Since several of his subordinates were now on vacation (having fulfilled their duties on time), the manager had to attempt to regurgitate and reconstruct the important list from memory and by last-minute calls to other employees. Since the submitted list was not an exact match with the original submission from his subordinates, changes had to be made when these people returned from vacation. Since land acquisition had already begun, the erroneous transactions cost the company well into the six-figure range.

How much cheaper it would have been for the IT Department to simply provide a backup option each time the notebook user logged onto the LAN! Not only did the company lose money, it lost a good manager, too.

And why should the enduser have to fall on his sword to save the reputation of IT?

Most recent revision: September 28, 2002
Copyright © 2002, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.