What's your attitude towards IT?

Ok, that title is a little strong for some, but it’s an observation based upon over thirty years surrounded by technology (my early resume is considered a history lesson in Universities) and the behaviour of some companies towards technology. I guess if I’m going to use such a strong title, you deserve an explanation.

I’ve chosen to write about how technology is perceived based upon over thirty years of observing how people treat those in the IT industry and how not enough has changed. The pace of technology change is rapid, it’s complex, and being able to keep pace is a job in itself.

Those that appreciate the industry are more appreciative and yet those that undervalue it are for some reason, less understanding than ever. But there are those who consider those in technology as somehow less valid, stupid, subservient. I’ve seen and heard support engineers spoken to in a way that borders upon offensive, certainly with a strong sense of dismissal.

I’ll confess that the industry is certainly littered with those that lack certain soft skills and their manner can be rude, arrogant, or downright obnoxious. The industry has roles that certainly suit a certain temperament, that’s undeniable. We can, at times, be our own worst enemy. There are those who are, shall we say, atypical nerds, then there are the mathematical geniuses, there’s the detail/ borderline OCD obsessives, the loners, those that probably never see daylight, and the ones that are all about money and flash cars. We’re certainly an eclectic, strange, bunch. As an IT management specialist, you can need a strong will and lots of patience to keep yourself sane at times.

‘I know, they did say that and I’m really sorry’ is a phrase I’ve used many times over the years.

But, for all the industry quirks, technology is increasingly the department that not only helps keep the computers switched on but is at the core of future growth and prosperity. Without the IT department, most companies would have failed during the pandemic as the world has moved online and our dependence upon technology has strengthened. Not only has it provided new foundations and opportunities, if you look at the growth of technology-aligned services such as e-commerce, social media, videoconferencing, VR/ AR, automated telephony, but there is also one department at the core of all this. The IT department.

To survive in the industry takes a lot more than just working hard and keeping users happy. The pace of technology means that often IT specialists are sat at home in the evenings and weekends studying, learning new skills and researching new technologies. Unlike many professions, what got you there on day one will definitely not keep you there in two to three years time. The personal investment from those in the profession is huge. Both personally and financially. To not invest and grow is to ensure that your career is at best short and sweet. It takes a lot of personal commitment and at times, family sacrifice, to work in IT.

As the use of technology has progressed over the past three or so decades the reason to call the IT department has most definitely changed. Its unusual nowadays to hear one of the engineers suggest turning the plug socket on so the power button works, I never hear that the coffee cup holder (CD drive tray) has gone into the computer or a frustrated call from a typist complaining that the new footswitch doesn’t work (it’s a mouse!). I cannot remember anyone saying ‘turn it off and on again’ in the past few years unless it’s a joke, quite frankly, the old problems no longer exist, users are so much more aware and tech-savvy than ever before. Nowadays they call having undertaken all the basics and often they’ve diagnosed the basic problem and just need support with fix implementation.

That’s fantastic, it shows that technology is for most, just a tool to help them produce yet another PowerPoint or merge their spreadsheets across multiple entities. When an application becomes unreliable often, they’re aware through the internet browser that company X broke something for them. But it also meant that the typical IT specialist has had to seriously up their game to keep pace not just with the rapid pace of technological change, but also the knowledge and ability of the average computer/ technology user.

I look back to my time in the trading room and standing out as I ran my trades via an excel spreadsheet albeit with fairly basic formulas. Nowadays we have Finance Quants who launch space shuttles at the weekend using their laptops they’re that smart. Things have certainly changed in the industry.

But the truth is, not everything that should have changed, has.

What hasn’t changed at times is people’s attitude towards the importance of technology to their organisation or at times, their attitude towards IT professionals.

I often see budgets delivered to such a lean perspective that even keeping the lights on is difficult. Where equipment is in short supply and at times, antiquated and no longer fit for purpose. Where software upgrades are refused, and their operation becomes unstable and outdated. At worst, often budgets are managed to the point where the IT system becomes vulnerable to nefarious actors and ultimately the very stability of the organisation is at risk from hackers.

If I told you that your building would fall unless you invested a percentage of your assets every year into its foundations, you would, in all likelihood, listen and react appropriately. Yet, I’ve seen CTO’s and CIO’s desperately trying to find an angle that accountants and Execs appreciate and meet their unrealistic demands or expectations. I’ve spoken to some over the years who, in tears, are lost about how to keep the lights on as the budget cuts inevitably come towards their departments first. Their work is devalued as disposable when times are lean and then later barely recover when tides turn and become more favourable. It’s a backward march as salaries continue to fall under the threat of near or offshore service delivery.

Ask yourself, what would happen if they all left? What skills and business knowledge do they have that makes you different, better, more competitive than the next company? If you want your organisation to not only survive but thrive, please stop, take a look at your relationship with technology and the IT department and ask yourself if you value it as you should. If you don’t, you’re probably going to be screwed as your competitor may very well hire your resources, business knowledge, and competitive advantage from under your feet.

Is your IT department just a service department or is it so much more?