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Influencers Weigh in on How to Balance IT, End-User Technology Needs

The Keys: Communication, Strategy, Embracing Change

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The dynamics of the workplace are changing, part of the sweeping IT and Digital transformation trends disrupting business. When you consider the changing demographics of the workplace, technology is placed squarely in the center of the forces reshaping how we work. With Millennials now comprising the largest segment of the workforce, expectations and demands on IT are heightened. In a recent survey by Forrester Consultants, “68% of Millennials said the expectations of the younger workers are pushing IT to keep technology current, but there is a palpable gap between what employees are demanding and how IT responds to them.” (1)

We reached out to technology influencers for ideas on what steps can IT leaders take to balance workplace technology demands of end users and the needs of IT managers. Here’s what they told us.

Balancing the needs of IT with those of end users for workplace technology demands communication — and lots of it. Understanding the business first is critical keeping both parties happy and productive. And strategy, policy, and the actual technology matters as well. But communication takes center stage for our influencers.

Kevin L. Jackson, founder of the GovCloud Network, endorses a cooperative approach. “IT managers must focus on collaboration over confrontation with end users,” Jackson says. “Know and understand the business model and metrics so that common goals can be identified and targeted.”

At Lynx Technology Partners, CIO Will Lassalle has been proactive. IT leaders can take steps to balance the needs of end users and IT Managers by communicating with the end user community,” he says.  “What we do is have technology committees that contain different end-user representation; we have an internal Wiki where ideas and concerns are shared. And lastly, we really embrace change/agility to prevent the proliferation of Shadow IT from end-users that choose to do IT themselves rather than depend on the Technology team. The many open lines of communication helps us balance the demands & concerns of the aforementioned stakeholders.”

It’s up to IT leaders to have their colleagues’ backs, says Systems Engineer Martha Cisneros.

“IT Leaders should always support IT managers and handle expectations from end users; be the bridge that translates business into IT operations and the other way around,” she says.

And, communication is a two-way street.

“We often receive the request ‘the system is slow, we want a system that is fast,’” says Cisneros.  “Those are very vague requests from end users that often times escalate to the meeting board. IT managers should work directly with end users to define what is ‘slow’ and what is the expectation of the user —  do they want to reduce 20% of the system processing time? Or more? or less?”

Listening is important, says Larry Letow, President of LG-TEK. But IT must not lose sight of their security mandate.

“IT Managers need to do a better job of listening to the needs of the end users,” says Letow.  “Truly understand what is required, what they would like and what is preferred as part of their job performance and balance that with the security and IT needs of an organization without creating [security] openings in the infrastructure.”

Bill Swavely, CIO at Pharm-Olam International, argues for a user-friendly approach.

“IT leaders need to engage end users and listen to truly understand their needs and challenges - and provide solutions that make technology less daunting, such as self-service tools, governed solutions that emulate consumer applications, comprehensive training and change management for all corporate systems and procedures,” he says.

A business-Centric Strategy

“IT leaders need to align themselves with the business,” says Will Kelly, technical writer & content development manager. “Then they need to get involved in business-side of strategy planning and become a technical advisor.”

It’s tempting to assume organizations are starting with a strategy or plan for end-user technology. Mark Thiele with Edge Computing Engineering at Ericsson says not so fast.

“The best strategy for an IT group when looking at expanding use of new end user technology is in having a strategy to begin with,” he says. He recommends IT leaders “define and publish an MVP of service access, security requirements, new solution review, and support levels. Obtain and publish the strategy with C-Suite support and be clear that when demand is there, new options will be enabled per the standard.”

Jason Wankovsky, CTO and VP of Consulting Services at Mindsight, breaks it down into three components:

“People. Policy. Technology. That's how IT leaders need to frame their thinking,” he states.  

“People: determine what end users are demanding - like BYOD, work-from-anywhere, and work culture flexibility. “Policy: create strong policies that set clear boundaries. Technology: provide support, both in terms of head count and resources, that enable IT managers to adopt the security initiatives necessary to allow for those demands.”

Agility, Flexibility Across Disciplines Ensures Progress

Tim Mackey, Senior Technology Evangelist at Synopsys, cautions about the results of getting it wrong.

“When an IT policy impacts an end users’ ability to deliver value to their organization, the user, or their manager, will seek a workaround,” Mackey says. “These workarounds are the basis for Shadow IT and increase risk to the organization. When combined with IT policies designed to evolve with threat landscapes, a balance can then be struck between user expectations on IT and the regulatory and security demands placed on IT leadership.”

Freelance Technology Writer/Journalist David Geer’s advice: keep it simple.

“Narrow the list of workplace technologies that your employees are demanding to those that are most likely to increase efficiency and productivity,” he says. “Select the top two or three that put the least strain on your IT manager. Implement one at a time over a reasonable period.”

And remember, says Tim Richardson, Enterprise Architect OCSL, a CANCOM company, change is good.

“The best thing that IT Leaders can do to maintain this delicate balance is to embrace change,” he says. “Realize that the technology landscape is changing rapidly and that if operating models and mindsets are stuck in pre-as-a-service modes, your competitors will out innovate you and your users will be bemoaning their legacy desktops which inhibit their productivity. The business must be open to and encourage change, and enable those responsible to affect change, unencumbered by old ways of working.”

1 Redefine Your Workforce Enablement Through Productivity — A Custom Technology Adoption Profile, Commissioned By Dell, November 2016