RESEARCH & RESOURCES

Marketing IT In-House -- Four Principles for Making Your Customers Look Good

The IT department's value to the enterprise becomes all the more obvious as you make other departments' value obvious.

By Max T. Russell, Max and Max Communications

The IT department's knowledge and skills give it a special ability to help other departments do their jobs well and to look good to their supervisors and co-workers.

At the same time, IT professionals busy making other people's day better must be careful not to draw too much attention to themselves. Humorist Will Rogers said, "Let someone else toot your horn. The sound will carry twice as far."

In this article I will explain four principles for making users look the way they want to look -- like smart, able, and confident workers. These principles should be part of IT's ongoing marketing campaign to show the department's value to the organization. Although these principles were developed for IT departments, they are equally applicable to any BI/DW professional behind the scenes -- from data scientists to support staff -- not just those working in IT. Just substitute your job function or group wherever you see "IT".

Principle #1: Work in the background

BI requires that IT exercise leadership in educating users about what BI can do for them, and in helping users understand how they can help IT see the users' real needs in order to build and support the appropriate solutions.

After you get that nailed down, it's time to work in the background. IT is not the actual business of most enterprises. Those of us who have worked in many different industries are always aware that IT is not the business itself.

Some IT professionals take a long time to understand this and cause themselves unnecessary friction by trying to make technology the main point instead of seeing it as a means of helping people do their work. These technologists will often

  • Give long, unnecessary explanations about the technology
  • Use geeky vocabulary that nobody even wants to understand
  • Push conformity to rules of questionable value

Staying in the background does not mean IT will be unknown and unappreciated. The opposite is true for an effective servant, which I wrote about in a previous article. As long as you continuously think in terms of harnessing technology to enhance the users' experience on their terms (whenever possible), your work will be excellent and your allies will be many.

Principle #2: Make a conscious effort to make your in-house customer look good

Most of us waste energy fishing for approval and recognition. The problem is that making yourself and your superior technological knowledge the center of attention can leave your customers feeling helpless and incompetent -- and their problems unaddressed.

Consciously intend to make users look good. The better you know them, the better you can assist them. When it comes to technology, people especially have a need for confidence. They need to know that technology will not obstruct business with a steep learning curve.

Inspire confidence with believable facts, because nervousness about technology hurts work quality and can cause IT to be perceived as ineffective.

However, you need to strike a balance. You must not be be overly confident in your users' abilities. Users may be working with mistaken confidence. A maintenance employee who was repairing a machine on a production line did not realize that his handheld scanner was charging a three-hundred-dollar wheel to a job that didn't require wheels. He moved from that machine to a fork lift with a bad tire, confidently entering the replacement parts for each job. A month later, the accounting and parts departments wasted hours trying to unravel the problem. IT had programmed too much information on the tiny display of the scanner, making it difficult for employees to see when they were still logged into a job. This made the users appear stupid. They, in turn, hated the technology and the ongoing BI strategy.

As you work with your in-house customers, intentionally make them shine and keep them from making mistakes, and you will become their welcome partner instead of a foreign threat.

Principle #3: Be sure the small things are working right

Technical issues that seem small and unrelated to BI are often the most prominent things in a user's daily experience. The tiniest glitches can ruin a day's work -- or slow productivity for weeks.

  • A mouse might not be clicking correctly
  • A mouse pad might not be matched to the mouse type
  • A key on the keyboard may be worn out
  • Someone may be accessing an old system if filenames are too similar

Some users silently tolerate glitches that can impact your BI endeavors. Some user supervisors are so tight with their budgets that their workers have to limp along on ridiculously inferior equipment, even when interfacing with a nationwide database of strategic importance. Provide guidance for those budgets, if possible. Be an advocate for your users. You'll do the workers a big favor.

Principle #4: Let tech-savvy users help make your in-house customers look good

The IT department doesn't have to be the only business solutions provider in the enterprise. Keep your customers' needs -- not your ego -- first.

For example, in an interview with TDWI earlier this year, Vitria CTO Dale Skeen pointed out that enabling your customers "not only to create analytics but also to share analytic models, insights, and results exponentially accelerates the use of intelligence within a company, often leading to an increased rate of innovation."

An employee team at a federal agency needed a prototype of an electronic medical record system. After IT worked on the project, the employees asked for a tweak on the way medication alerts displayed, though they didn't know what kind of a tweak they wanted.

Another worker, trained in human factors, suggested that the developers build a medication alert system that would allow the employee team to change the alert content using HTML and a text editor. That suggestion allowed the developers to get on with their work and resulted in a product that drew positive attention to the employee team.

Skilled workers enjoy being included in solutions. It adds interest to their lives, and the higher a person's level of education or training, the more important it is for that person to find enjoyment and challenges in the work day. Any time you can help make that happen, you're increasing IT's resources and helping make your customers look good.

Accept the talent outside your department. You will not live long enough to accumulate everyone else's wisdom and expertise.

A Final Word

The daily goal of making your in-house customers look good takes a friendly and generous mindset. The credit will come back like a boomerang. People will toot your horn, and the sound will carry a long way.

Max T. Russell is the owner of Max and Max Communications. He works behind the scenes to promote individuals and projects in a variety of industries. He and his identical twin, Max S., have been discussing and dissecting the challenges of IT in the workplace for the past 18 years. You can reach him at maxt@maxtrussell.com.

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