About 30 years ago, Greg Lane was reading a research report about how various employee groups view the importance of social and personal interaction in the workplace. He found IT workers near the bottom of the list, meaning they felt that interacting with the organization overall wasn’t a priority.
But that wasn’t the most surprising part for the president of the Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS).
“”One of the groups that still stands out in my mind that finished in front of IT workers was forest rangers,”” Lane says. “”I think that is changing, but I think in our industry there’s still that kind of preference for communicating electronically — or not at all.””
In terms of sketch comedy this is funny: The people charged with ensuring a company can communicate aren’t keen on it themselves. In terms of building links with other departments and raising their stature within the company, it is disastrous.
In general, Lane says, there is a disconnect of varying severity between IT and the rest of the organization. Despite the mission-critical role technology plays in almost every business, techies are often viewed as second-class citizens, he says.
“”I think the CIO and IT people haven’t had the right visibility or haven’t had the right position within an organization and they’re often times an afterthought,”” says Lane, who is also the director of business development for Deloitte Consulting.
“”The reality is IT could and should be part of the strategic sessions, not an afterthought or not somebody trying to figure out how to incorporate them into your strategy. They should be baked into, and in fact leading some of the discussions around how a technology is going to enable a corporation.””
Eugene Kaluzniacky echoes Lane’s assessment. The instructor in the department of applied computer science and administrative studies at the University of Winnipeg says there is a cultural and emotional difference between IT workers and say, accountants. He says techies love to produce something that works and they get a high from that. What they are not concerned about, however, is whether the product serves the company’s needs.
“”A lot of the time they say, ‘Great, this system worked. I worked three months on it. How they use it, that’s not my business.’ And there’s that disconnection, that they do not yet ultimately see the impact as being that important,”” says Kaluzniacky, the author of the upcoming book Managing Psychological Factors in IT Work: an Orientation to Emotional Intelligence.
He blames part of this thinking on universities. He says too few schools incorporate the business and marketing perspective of technology into the curriculum. Ideally, he says, techies would be close to their work, but not dependent on it. The high they’re craving should come from meeting company goals and not a system that never crashed, but this requires a leap of faith.
“”If they go into more uncharted and grey areas such as satisfying the management with their system, then maybe it’s harder to get a high from that immediately because you have all kinds of human factors,”” Kaluzniacky says.
While part of the problem is a breakdown in communication, there is another dynamic at work. Lane says there is 40 times more project activity today (tasks that have a start and end date and deliverable) than existed 20 years ago. This creates a generation gap of sorts.
“”Whether the individual leaders are comfortable in technology may not be as significant as do they understand that the business they graduated from,”” Lane says, “”is totally different than they remember or think of it. We describe these things as elephants in the hallway. People are getting crushed by the amount of project activity going on.””
Both Lane and Kaluzniacky say things are improving, which isn’t to say the human network is free of 404 errors. According to a survey of CIOs in April conducted by the CATA Alliance and the Canadian Technology Human Resources Board (CTHRB), three out of five CIOs said selling their business case was getting harder. CTHRB executive director Bob Cook says the IT department, like human resources, is still viewed in some circles as a cost centre.
As the importance of IT in organizations grows, Lane says the onus is on everyone to adapt. Case in point being the recent power outage that hit most of the north-eastern United States and Ontario.
“”As we move forward it’s going to be very different,”” he says. “”The power outage drove this home for a whole lot of people, ‘Holy mackerel, if I’m off the air we’re out of business.’ That’s not necessarily the way it was even 10 years ago, and I don’t think it’s going to get any easier or less technology intensive.””