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David Wagner
David Wagner
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Why IT Needs To Stop Saying No

How do you turn your IT shop from the "Department of No" into the "Department of Yes?" You need to change your people and change how you measure them.

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Lots of people will tell you that you need to turn IT into a service organization in order to give your employees the same kind of experience they get when using consumer products.

However, few will tell you how to do it in detail, or do it with the hilarious profanity and honesty that Brad Paubel, vice president of internal customer technology at Maritz will tell you. His presentation at Gartner CIO Symposium, "Changing Culture -- It Takes a Village (and a Sledgehammer!)," is a step-by-step primer on how to change IT from the "Department of No" to the customer-centric group CEOs and employees are demanding.

The story of how IT got here is a familiar one.

IT tried to control demand. It put people and business processes in line for technology rather than granting access. But consumerization taught people that technology could be easier to get at home than at work. In short, Paubel said: "We got caught up in our own importance."

[This is how one marketing person sees IT. Read IT Stereotypes: Time to Change.]

So what did he do to change that?

He stopped concentrating on technology and started concentrating on people, starting with his own people. Paubel told all his managers they would start being measured on people skills and that they should train themselves on soft skills.

"I gathered all my people and I said, 'We want people managers -- managers [who] can really understand and work with internal IT to get work done. We are not selling technology anymore. We are selling our people. I want our IT people to get in front of our customers and hear what they have to say.'"

Brad Paubel, VP of internal customer technology, Maritz

(Image: David Wagner)

Brad Paubel, VP of internal customer technology, Maritz

(Image: David Wagner)

It wasn't easy. Some managers simply weren't suited to do it. "We started telling our people when they were in a meeting to look people in the eye -- don't be that [expletive] everyone hates in IT. People want you to listen."

He went on to tell a story about a network architect who was one of his best. "He was a great architect, but he was an [expletive]. You were always wrong. He was always right. No one wanted to work with him, and the ripple effect was terrible on my organization. Everyone hated him."

To change perceptions, Paubel had to do some internal marketing the old fashioned way.

"I was out drinking with an internal customer ... go ahead and laugh ... but I do it quite often. You learn a lot," Paubel said, "And our customer said, 'Our bill from Azure is hard to read.' They could say that because they went to cloud without us, of course. So hearing that, I created a service for creating a bill for them so they could understand their usage and costs. I introduced a completely new service. And I was able to do that, because I'm closer to my customer. Stop competing and become a broker for your customers."

He has taken the idea of becoming a broker for his customers very seriously. "The first thing I do when I hear something from my business that they need, I look around and see if someone can do it better than me. If they can, I broker that for them. If not, I do it."

Once he started looking at serving people (the village), he needed to take the sledgehammer seriously. (People in his group are brutally honest in manager evaluations, using words like "wishy-washy" and "incapable of making eye contact.")

After every meeting with an internal customer, his group has a meeting to discuss how the meeting could have gone better. They practice "perception-based management." They only consider what they do a success if the customer thinks it is.

When organizations change to this strategy, he said, certain roles diminish. He doesn't need as many sys admins, network admins, or storage admins. Instead, he sees other roles as growing, including business relationship manager, service engineer, and automation architect.

Why automation architect? Because there are three steps to get to Paubel's goal.

  • Step one is automate everything you can. Your people can't concentrate on serving the customer if they are just keeping the lights on.
  • Step two is focus on those soft skills.
  • The third step is to become that broker of services. You should look outside your company for solutions when you can. Think of IT as becoming IS (Information Services). Most important, give customers the experience they want. Consider how their lives and careers work, so that the best solutions can work seamlessly between the two.

"It isn't going to be easy. People are going to ask if it is a popularity contest. No, [with] every transaction you are building your brand. You can make things unique for your customer, because other people can't. You're the only one who knows them."

If it seems too hard, Paubel ended with a phrase that should help you be motivated. "Be the change … not the changed." In other words, if you can't do it, they'll find someone who can.

David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio
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User Rank: Ninja
10/10/2015 | 2:25:04 PM
Re: Some really great points!

I don't miss the days where I had to explain to management WHY things like this are not good soultions. Good luck.

>> So none of business users, from President on down, can understand why we don't just use Time Warner. Or double our Corp circuit capacity. They don't realize the proxy and McAfee are probably the bottleneck. Put those at back of Time Warner circuit and performance is not likely to be much different.
User Rank: Ninja
10/8/2015 | 2:07:07 PM
Re: Some really great points!
Overall, you can't argue with msg in this article. Communication and collaboration skils are every bit as important as technical skills. But there is a role for IT to be the voice of reason also.

Here is example I'm dealing with right now at our business unit. Globally, we use a private network of circuits and all internet access connected to business servers/workstations is dictated by policy to use that network. Internet access is funneled thru proxy servers, along with McAfee filtering/antivirus. We have two T1's worth of overall throughput (3Mbs) connected to our hub where proxy sits. The two T1's cost about $900 a month.

Our internet service is horribly slow, especially compared to what we have at home or even over 4G to our smartphones. I bring Time Warner Business Class service in as backup, 7MB of bandwidth for $83 per month. A 200MB file that takes 45 minutes over Corp internet takes less than 5 on Time Warner.

So none of business users, from President on down, can understand why we don't just use Time Warner. Or double our Corp circuit capacity. They don't realize the proxy and McAfee are probably the bottleneck. Put those at back of Time Warner circuit and performance is not likely to be much different.

The business users don't care about security (until they get hammered by ransomware or something), they just want speed. But that doesn't make them right. I'm reluctant to throw anymore money at that circuit when I'm convinced it's likely the proxy or QoS on that circuit which is killing internet browsing/download speed. It be real easy to be accomodating and throw money at that circuit, then when it failed throw up my hands and say "I tried, anything else I can do for you?"

The business expects us to apply our technical expertise in these areas, to watch their backs. Not just be a bunch of likeable people rubberstamping any idea they have. They need us to save them from themselves sometimes. The key is to do it with tact, to be able to communicate your reasons.

One final story. At my first company, when I was right out of school, the company installed a server from IBM. IBM sized the server (this was 1988, when the new AS400 server was $250,000+) but it was way undersized. Interactive response times were sometimes 30 seconds, batch program compiles took an hour. Users were rightfully screaming. The President pulled me aside, really the first conversation I ever had with him directly. He said "Terry, when I look at IT here, I see you and a bunch of really nice guys. What's really going on here?" I told him we were two machine sizes too small, IBM gambled trying to keep cost down to get the sale. We upgraded the two sizes and were back in business.

The point of this story is: You can be perceived as being a nice guy but what the business needs is you know what you are doing technically. Within a couple of years, of the 11 other really nice people I worked with in IT, only 3 of us were the IT department.
User Rank: Ninja
10/7/2015 | 5:00:53 PM
Re: Some really great points!
@Stratustician    I agree.   IT is often it's own worse enemy. Being open and receptive goes along way.  Of course there are two sides to every issue but IT could do a better job of holding up their part of the deal.
User Rank: Ninja
10/7/2015 | 1:54:55 PM
Some really great points!
First off, I love how honest and direct his language is.  We've all worked with IT folks that remind us of characters that he's mentioned, and he brings some really good points.  Customers will buy from companies who make their experiences easier, and if you can service both your internal and external customers in a way that doesn't seem like all you're doing is putting in roadblocks, you'll get much better support and results.  IT has definitely got a reputation of being naysayers and the first ones to say no, but changing your approach and being, for some people, less of a *explative*, companies will see way better internal collaboration.
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