Traditionally, IT Support has been just that, a support role. As such, many IT Support organizations have self-withdrawn into their own world. They may only mildly consider the people they support because they know that the organization depends on them. It is because of their actions that things on the technology front run smooth.
This is entirely the wrong way to think about this role.
Treat IT Support as a Hospitality Role
First and foremost, we should consider IT Support as a hospitality role. Most notably, support specialist should treat the individual or individuals as an esteemed guest and not as a support client. I do not say this to demand better treatment, special care or consideration for when I put in a support ticket. As a former Systems Support professional, I understand and sympathize with their responsibility and understand how hard that job can be. But when a Support Specialist behaves as if you are an inconvenience and not their primary responsibility, the client feels that impression from IT Support and are turned off by it.
Ask yourself this question: in your last encounter with an IT Support Staff member, did you feel special, like you were the only thing the Support specialist was concerned with at the time? Or did you feel bitter, bad like you were an interruption and didn’t really get what you needed from your support staff?
If IT Support were a hotel or a restaurant, would you go back again? Unfortunately, in many organizations, the answer to this last question is a disappointing ‘No!’
Too many IT Support Team members know
they have a monopoly on the IT infrastructure. If they desire, they can cause massive amounts of damage. Damage that, depending on the organization, could cause monetary loss greater than most terrorist attacks that have occurred since 9/11.
The San Francisco Example
Take, for example, Terry Childs. Childs, a 43-year-old computer network administrator, who, in 2008, locked San Francisco officials out of their new FiberWAN network. This network houses important government documents, including PII information. Did he do this for money? Probably not. His base salary was north of $120k and he did not even live in America’s most expensive city. Did he do it as a statement, maybe. Most likely, this was probably an insurance policy protecting him against being fired for performance. He knew that IT Support has a monopoly in any organization, he bet that he could at least make a statement (which he did) if not get what he really wanted, notoriety and job security.
Organization can try to pay their way out of this threat but trying to pay IT Support Professionals more money only because of their special monopoly is only kicking the can down the road. It covers the symptoms but does not treat the disease.
Treating the Disease
All the Edward Snowdens and Bradley (Chelsea) Mannings of the world are a testament that Computer Systems Support need to change the way they operate. It is time for a change. That change is to transform IT Support departments into a hospitality role and not a support role.
All the IT Support professionals reading this are probably cringing and wondered to themselves, “Why should I change, you need me!” This is true, we do need IT Support professionals, but we also need hospitality professionals when we travel. We need computer updates and we need clean bed sheets. We need new computers and software installed just and we need food and beverages when we are out travelling. The big difference is that there is a monopoly, for good reason, within the organization for IT Support.
Fight or Flight
When IT Support is run like a monopoly it leaves bad experiences for the people they support. Bad experiences mean that employees will circumvent IT Support in the future. Avoiding IT because of bad experiences is a security risk for your organization at the technology level. That employee who can’t remember a complex password that IT has set and prevents her from changing? She will write it on a post-it and, if the organization is lucky, put it in a locked drawer. More likely, it will be found under her keyboard or sticking right on her monitor.
People tend to avoid things that they are uncomfortable with. This is the fight or flight response at work and it happens in the IT world. Circumventing IT Security policies or beating frustrating computer equipment, fight or flight is real in the corporate world. PC Load Letter, anyone?
A Radical Solution
A radical solution to this, in my opinion, is to first of all, have professionals from the hospitality industry retrain IT Support professionals. Train IT professionals on how they can be more hospitable towards the staff they support.
Second, organizations should outsource what they can. Outsourcing will add a level of personal separation between the support staff and the people they support. This separation is a level closer to IT as a hospitality industry. This also has the added benefit of saving an organization money in the long run.
Next, eliminate the special perks that IT has that are not necessary to their job such as special access and abuse of work hours. People see this abuse and are turned off by the apparent abuse of power that IT Support professionals have.
Last but certainly not least, enforce the Golden Rule for the IT Support Staff; treat the people who are their support guests as they would like to be treated. That will go a long way in eliminating the appearance of an IT Support monopoly and the dirty laundry that comes with it.