Proactive IT

At an IT department meeting I attended, we were asked to describe what made a work order a “quality” work order. I guess the boss was hoping we would list all the wonderful ways that we would help someone solve a problem, or the process we would use to expedite things and meet service level agreements for response time and time to satisfactory resolution. My suggestion did not go over well. I suggested that the perfect work order was one that did not exist in the first place. I think this was misinterpreted to mean that I was lazy and hoped there would be no work orders. What I meant was that if the IT department was doing its job, there would be no problems to fix, no calls to the help desk, no work orders to fill. The needs of the business would have been anticipated and fulfilled seamlessly in the background before problems could arise.

Most IT departments began from a need to have people with the technical skills to setup and maintain the computers and networks used by a business. When the business grew to the point that a call for help over the cubicle wall was no longer practical, help desk systems developed using phone calls and emails and specialized software to queue, track and document requests for technical assistance. As efficient as these systems can become and as skilled and sincere as tech support can be there is still a major problem. This type of system is reactive. Nothing gets done until someone requests help. If too many requests for the same type of help happen then causes are investigated and repairs are made or training is delivered. What is needed is a proactive approach to IT.

In manufacturing, many might visualize quality control as testing and measuring items coming off the line and discarding those that are defective or sub-standard. This is very inefficient and costly. It is a reactive approach. What is required is a thorough understanding of the system that produces the items, and procedures in place that prevent the production of faulty items in the first place: a proactive approach. In IT, many might visualize quality control as tracking how quickly and effectively IT staff responds to requests for assistance. This is a reactive approach. What is required is a proactive approach: making requests for help unnecessary in the first place.

If the IT department is to free itself from the task of putting out fires and become an active participant in business it will have to analyze and understand the business systems that are in place and what their needs are and will be. If the IT department is to lose the geek stigma it carries, it will have to start participating in the strategic planning process instead of being just a supplier of services. The IT department has to become an asset instead of an expense. Unless this happens, IT departments will be progressively marginalized and eventually outsourced as business departments increasingly manage their own information needs.