circuit board

All of the goals of Information Technology can be summarized in two very simple ideas:

• Minimizing Worry
and • Enhancing Workflows

That might seem to be a bold statement, and although it doesn’t capture all of the biggest reasons we do what we do, every action that the IT person performs can fall into one of those two categories.

The IT professional has an increasingly growing task list as advances in technology and society drive more and more solutions to the technologist. I think one of the dangers that we fall prey to is overthinking our roles and missing out on these two really important reasons.

We sometimes say that our job is to make the end user’s job easier. There’s a bit of psychology here, and several layers, but in some ways it gets to the essence of the role of end-user support, if not all of IT, so let’s unpack it.

First and most obvious is the fact that if we keep things physically working, the end user will be able to work uninterrupted and undistracted. Interruptions caused by computer or software malfunctions cost valuable time. Keeping things working, and working efficiently is the most obvious task of the IT team.

If we take our jobs more seriously, we usually want to go one step further. If we are able to make the end user feel as though we have their back, and that we will make sure the tech they use is going to be solid, they will be much more free to do what they do best. We start to think about the efficiency of our users workday in terms of their level of distraction.

Another important task falls more to the leadership of a specific IT department, and that is the freedom that is granted to the IT staff to help find solutions. If a tech is allowed or encouraged to work with end users to find a better or more efficient way for them to do a task, whether it be a professional development thing or a software and solutions thing, or a research and development thing, enhancing the workflows that our users use every day can boost the performance of the organization in ways that no other approach can do.

This is the great power of a good IT department. There is no other team within an organization that has more influence over the performance of the entire organization than the IT team, at a host of levels.

Minimizing Worry

So how does this work? Let’s say that you get a call saying that a computer won’t turn on, and there’s an odd message on the screen. You go down to address the issue and find that the computer is on the boot selection menu and no hard drive is listed. The way that you handle that incident in front of the end user could either provide peace of mind, or totally destroy all the efficiency talk in this blog post up to this point.

When a user believes something is wrong with their tech, the initial response can be one of panic. They often have the feeling that they might have done something wrong to cause the issue, so a lot of different negative thoughts can be triggered.

If you as the tech talk negatively about the computer or the software selection, regardless of how minor your negative comment, you’re likely to cast more worry on to the user. It can be easy to forget that they don’t already have opinions about technology brands and software like other IT folks, so your minor comment could greatly influence their entire thinking about not just that one part of their computing experience, but their IT department as well.

On the other hand, if you demonstrate a content and relaxed attitude about the problem at hand, it can reassure the user in multiple ways, boosting their confidence, attitude, and even self-respect for having “not done something wrong”. This is the “pour sunshine into their day” rule that I describe in my 7 rules for end user support; you’ll make their day.

Across the IT landscape, I find similar issues at play. The vast majority of our daily tasks have something to do with minimizing worry. The difference between tasks is often whose worry we are minimizing. Sometimes it’s the end users, sometimes it’s leadership, and other times, it’s the IT team ourselves whose worry we are working to reduce.

Enhancing Workflows

There are tasks that don’t have anything to do with minimizing worry, but it seems to me that all of the remaining tasks fall into the category of enhancing workflows.

Don’t forget the primary reason people use technology: people use computers because they want to save time and work. If an IT department is doing a great job of keeping things running, but never offers new solutions, the day to day workflows of everyone else in the organization will fall behind as fast as technology advances.

It should be a core mission of technology teams to improve the processes that everyone in the organization uses.

So yes, this is a bold idea. And sure, it’s a bit simplistic. There are other reasons for the way we work and the specific tasks we perform, but I would venture to say that these two ideas really do underlie everything we do in IT.

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