Take a moment and think back to what IT was like just a few short years ago. People needed us. We were the group that guarded the gates of new technologies, keeping them safely locked away. We controlled the “what” and “when” of technology, wrapping it in process and governance to try and control demand. It’s what we did; it’s all we knew. Our customers stood in line, filled out tickets, and called the service desk to get what they needed—after all, what choice did they have? They needed us.
We got caught up in ourselves and our own importance, only dealing with change as a nuisance that wouldn’t affect us. The pendulum oscillated between centralization and decentralization, but that didn’t really concern us, because we knew when it swung back we’d be ready to say I told you so. We spent most of our time focusing on how to control IT, and less on how we were doing it or, more importantly, for whom. We got lost in the technology and forgot about the people. We were the Department of No, and before we realized it, a new IT was upon us. We’d seen change and evolution before, but this time it was different. It was more than just new technologies and new standards.
We’ve seen change and evolution before, but this time it’s different. It’s about more than just new technologies and new standards.
This time the change was about the people, the clients and their businesses. Those who used to follow our direction were now listening to their customers and taking simpler technologies to them—without us. The world was rapidly changing, and where technology was concerned, it was intensifying. The ways in which our services were being provided were being commoditized. Technology was becoming simpler, more people-friendly. The customers of IT were able to do things they weren’t able to do on their own in the past.
Even the most sacred tasks were becoming easier to do, more customer-focused. Things that were once IT-specific were now in the customer’s control: server provisioning, hosting, desktop imaging, storage, disaster recovery, the cloud. The way people used technology was starting to shift. Our customers no longer needed us the way they once had.
We, as IT professionals, are the ones who now need to take a step back and look to our customers’ needs. We need to adapt to this changing culture or we risk becoming extinct. This change is about transforming from technology-focused organizations to a consultative, service-based, customer-focused organizations. It is no longer all about the technology; it’s about partnership and solutions, where technology becomes transparent and unobtrusive.
This change means many things to the IT world. Gone are the days of the stereotypical rude IT geek. Resolving our customers’ issues is a given; what they’re looking for now is an experience. We need to partner with them, really listen to them, sell and provide services simply, and be responsive and flexible.
This new culture is uncharted territory, and it raises a few questions:
- What exactly does this new world of IT look like, and how do we stay viable?
- How do we embrace this cultural shift?
- How do we fight decades-old perceptions of IT?
We’re truly in the age of the customer; gone are the days when the customer had to do business with IT.
The first step is to change our focus. Today’s IT story is about the people, our customers. We’re truly in the age of the customer; gone are the days when the customer had to do business with IT. Our customers are looking in new directions, not because our technology is bad, but because the perception is that it’s easier to do it themselves. We need to refocus our efforts on ease of technology, ensuring that it’s seamless, automated, and streamlined for our customers. More importantly, we need to focus on the experience we provide for our customers and their perception of us.
While the tasks required to keep the lights on are important, these have been commoditized and are considered table stakes. To remain viable, we need to focus on those things that can never be commoditized, such as knowing our customers, being a trusted advisor and anticipating their needs, and bringing true value back to IT. By refocusing our efforts on becoming service management providers and acting as service brokers for our customers, we can play a consultative role in helping them achieve business success.
This is a big shift, and some IT professionals won’t feel this is a fit for them. It’s important to retain your strategic, innovative people—after all, training will teach a skill, but it won’t change a behavior. When you hire, focus on soft skills and values. Prospective and current employees who seek to reduce friction, have strong customer focus, can build relationships, and are sales-oriented—yes, we said sales-oriented—are going to thrive in the new IT culture.
In this new model, some roles will naturally fall away, like systems, network, storage, and database administrators. These are all tech-oriented roles that are sustainers. But new roles will emerge, such as business relationship manager, service engineer, automation architect, and other service-oriented roles. These are all innovative roles required to compete with the outside world. There will also be a demand for sales and marketing-focused jobs in the new IT culture.
But let’s get a little more into the “how.” How do you build an IT organization that changes perceptions and can emerge as a critical part of an organization’s success? The table below presents a quick comparison of old sustaining behaviors versus new innovating behaviors. To achieve and succeed in the new IT culture, it’s imperative to focus on management. Many times in IT, gifted technical people are promoted into leadership roles. We’re now asking IT management to truly manage people and not base success solely on tactical approaches from old IT.
|Sustaining Behaviors||Innovating Behaviors|
|Firefighting and heroism; treating the technology as our customer
||Being a proactive, solution-oriented, customer-focused service provider|
||A sense of urgency that drives timely, innovative, customer-valued actions|
|Siloed bureaucracy, rigid processes
||Simplicity; removing friction; open frequent communication; coordination and collaboration with each other and the customer; managers managing people to perception (how they/IT are perceived) |
|A lack of trust and low morale; insufficient accountability and personal responsibility; a perception of mandating IT to the business
||Engaged team members with a high sense of multidirectional accountability and trust; highly valued by the business; trusted advisor, trusted consultants|
|A lack of empowerment for the IT staff; rewards not aligned with perception-based performance
||IT leadership empowering people to take risk, interact with customers; rewards based on perception and value to customers |
|An inconsistent management approach that focuses on technology rather than people
||Managers who embrace and drive change, consistently model and coach to the desired behaviors, develop talent (soft skills and technical), and embody effective performance management |
|Being a reactive supplier
||Being a broker of services, a consultant, a valued partner
|Treating customers as incapable or reckless
||Treating customer as educated consumers
As mentioned before, it’s important that we, as IT professionals, transform. We must manage to perception and focus on our soft skills, and we can accomplish this through performance management. Performance management shouldn’t be reserved for your monthly meetings; it’s something that should be done every day, all day. As a manager, your main objective should be developing your people, and this means something entirely new today. It’s not just about learning new technologies; it’s about how easy we are to work with, how we help our customers solve their real-world business problems, how they perceive their working relationship with us.
If you’re managing performance correctly, it should be approximately 90 percent of your day. It’s imperative that you give your employees the opportunity to succeed or fail. You will learn much more about a person by giving them a chance to be themselves and feel confident in what they know and don’t know. Your job as a manager isn’t to solve technical issues, manage your employee’s time, or micromanage every aspect of their day. It’s to help guide them to success, coach them on ways to do things better, and help them reach their true potential.
Work with your IT leaders to understand the transformation, and have them work with their people to focus their performance on growing the positive perception of themselves and IT (building your brand). Drive your managers and teams to build relationships, but be a partner, not a dictator.
When you achieve this new vision of IT, you’ll once again be in a position where your customers actually value what you have to offer. They won’t need you; they’ll want you.
We not only work with our customers every day, we also have access to all of their information. With this upper-hand, we should be able to build that relationship again and bring the value back to IT. When you achieve this new vision of IT, you’ll once again be in a position where your customers actually value what you have to offer. They’ll want to do business with you not because they have to, but because they see you as a partner in their success. They won’t need you; they’ll want you.
Brad Paubel is a VP of internal customer technologies. He’s a passionate forward-thinking and innovative leader who drives positive change and success. He is an ITIL Expert with more than 15 years of experience working in IT operations. Brad is a visionary who leads by example to support organizations on their culture journey, ensuring success for the future.
Michelle Stirnemann is a passionate artist, leader, and IT professional. With more than twenty years of experience in IT, Michelle’s approach to management and IT will help you positively influence the perception of your organization and your people. She’s a transformational leader who defines and drives cultures that meet the changing demands of the marketplace.