IT departments these days are working hard to shore up their organization’s cybersecurity defenses, among other pressing matters–all while dealing with the usual workaday tech issues. But a few of the most irritating and persistent bugs may elude even the best IT departments, no matter how determined they are to fix them.
The reasons why are often complex, but at least one of them isn’t: Some of the more stubborn IT issues just don’t have quick, software-based fixes. In fact, they aren’t strictly IT issues at all. They’re actually organizational problems around the ways technology is used, misused, or (in some cases) not used enough within companies and nonprofits. Here’s how to finally get past them.
First things, first: everyone in your organization–regardless of their title, business function, team, or even location–relies on technology to do their work and do it well. Major systems are managed and used by various teams, from email marketing tools to social media, inventory management to time tracking. It’s often department directors who are charged with overseeing the budgeting, planning, and selection of the tech tools their teams and operations rely on. So why do they all turn directly to IT departments the moment one of those tools goes down?
It’s time for organizations to realize that many of the difficulties they face in technology infrastructure have to do with the way they’re chosen, implemented, and distributed–all decisions that IT managers don’t tend to have much say in. The point here isn’t to let IT teams off the hook. It’s to point out that the solution is often the reverse of what companies tend to do. Putting all technology-related decision-making back into the IT department more likely than not will take your organization back 20 years.
Instead, you need embrace the distributed reality of technology management in 2017–both the fun parts and the not-so-fun parts (and it’s the latter that often get shunted off to IT departments). How do you do that? For starters, position your IT team as subject-matter experts and internal consultants, not the owners of your organization’s technology.
If the communications team is exploring new a email marketing system, for instance, don’t let them keep their process and planning private for fear of being vetoed. Have them work with the IT team from the start to get recommendations and learn about best practices on system evaluation, requirements gathering, and testing.
Then open up the books. Make sure your budgets match the reality of whatever technology you’re considering adopting, this way everyone is fully informed about the costs. Technology shouldn’t all go into an IT budget, nor should it be rolled into a single line item for office supplies (your database isn’t the same as your coffee machine). Each department’s budget should include line items for software, hardware, and associated service fees.
While there may be many tools that each department can manage for their direct use, there will always be systems that everyone in the organization needs to access and use. And many of those systems are only as good as their level of adoption. In my organization’s research on how nonprofits use technology, for example, staff consistently say that they have the tools they need but don’t know how to use them to be most effective.
In most cases, the adoption question is settled even before you’ve chosen the specific tool to adopt. Organizations need to be much more intentional about those decisions, opening up conversations about what’s needed even while they’re still shopping around. Just sending an announcement about a new software you’ve already purchased won’t cut it.
Invite staff into the whole process. Regardless of their team affiliation or experience, a diverse group of employees from across your organization can often evaluate your current systems and choose new ones more effectively than a room full of IT managers. This way your decisions about technology actually reflect realities of the organization–and the needs of the people who’ll use it. By the time the tool is rolled out, you’ll already have a team of advocates ready to champion it and show others the ropes.
This year, make tech adoption part of every job description. As it is, everyone already uses a handful of tools in their day-to-day work, so why not call that out explicitly, just as you do with every job function? It should be clear–right from the point of applying for a job, all the way through to annual evaluations–that using core tools central to the organization’s success isn’t just suggested, it’s required.
When technology is a part of everyone’s job, the buck ultimately stops with the CEO, not the IT lead or even the CTO. Maybe as the head of your organization, you use tech systems less than the rest of your staff. You might even spend most of your time communicating with people outside the organization, not within it. None of that exempts you from the same set of expectations as far as tech adoption and use goes.
Technology use isn’t a functional skill in organizations today. It’s a matter of organizational culture. That means the CEO sets the tone for everyone. Be visible in the same systems as other staff. Whether it’s Slack, Asana, or a Google Sheet, make sure you’re logging in and posting, responding, or adding notes where other staff are engaging. Nothing communicates accountability better than staff knowing that their leaders are paying attention.
Keep technology at the top of your goals. Just as you have key targets for other programs or services, with monthly and quarterly metrics you’re tracking, elevate technology with the same rigor. Make it a key performance indicator that’s important to you (and what’s important to the CEO is important for the organization). To do that, you need to make sure every team is tracking and reporting on their technology usage. Otherwise you can’t identify problems and needs early or make the case convincingly that your success depends on the technology you use to get work done.
Many a frustrated CEO knows how quickly big strategic goals can get hung up on IT bugs and tech meltdowns. At at some level, there are probably some lingering technological hangups through your organization already. And your IT department won’t be able to solve them singlehandedly. The sooner you recognize that, the sooner you can set your whole organization up for success in the year ahead.