A relationship that's in need of improving

IT knowledge has to be matched with people skills, says Shirley Redpath

Like partners in a faltering love affair, CIOs should look to themselves, not their colleagues on the board, to improve relations between IT and the business.

Their frustration at less than optimum relations is understandable. Members of the IT team often have the most detailed knowledge of the end-to-end processes that drive their organisations they are de facto experts at managing process change and they are ace at innovation. Why then, does the rest of the business not embrace them and make them feel loved?

The reasons are as complex as the individuals involved, because relationships, in both the personal and the business context, are a blend of strategic alliance and emotions. And that is where the problem lies - emotions can get messy and alliances are often poorly understood.

Emotional element

The importance of skills for building alliances and managing the emotional element of relationships has only recently dawned on the IT community, and its academic supply chain has been caught on the back foot.

Computing courses, focused almost exclusively on technology and its applications, have been turning out graduates who understand how to change a sales processing system into a CRM system, but not how to change users' attitudes to new ways of working.

The employers themselves have also been partly to blame. Read the IT job ads and see how few specify skills beyond a particular programming or hardware environment. Some do mention communication skills, but empathy? The ability to feel someone else's pain? Not on your life.

The truth is, these basic relationship needs make the average techie a bit squeamish. Computing is based on logic, which enables systems people to bring a certain elegance to their solutions.

Users, however, are not always logical in their demands or their approach to computer operation, to the annoyance of many a systems designer. But it is time to recognise that it is neither possible nor logical to change the end-user.

User behaviour

What needs to change is the IT professional's expectations of user behaviour and motivation. I have heard a helpdesk agent shout at an end-user who failed to notice the file name extension on a vital document that had become lost.

The user was a key member of the firm's legal team, who was under pressure to negotiate a time-critical corporate merger, yet the support agent was blaming her for the frustration her lack of systems knowledge was causing him.

Back to alliances and relationships - were both individuals working towards the same corporate objectives? Had anyone clearly thought through the most efficient way of working together?

Information technologies have enabled corporations to focus on producing results, yet business gurus, senior executives and financiers have all begun to realise that results can only be achieved through people. It's time the IT community also embraced this truth.

Shirley Redpath is principal at consultancy Management Arts

Do you agree with Shirley Redpath? If you have an opinion about this or any article in Computer Weekly, e-mail [email protected]


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