How Management Views IT

My profession is Internal Technologies. I’ve been working in this field since 2001.

That wasn’t the plan. The plan was to work at that job while working on my novel. My novel was going to turn me into a professional novelist and I would leave the average, humdrum, work-a-day world behind.

In fact, that’s still the plan but now I have a more realistic idea of what it will take to become a full time novelist, and I have to acknowledge that this may, in fact, never happen.

In the meantime, I’ve become an IT service desk professional, despite having no schooling for it and learning all I know on the job.

When I started in this field, it was an employee’s market. If you didn’t like a job you were in, all you had to do was look for a new one. In a typically very short time, you’d find one. Most of the jobs I worked back then were call center jobs where I would be one of over a hundred of agents toiling away in half-cubicles, being paid peanuts and in general not feeling like I was noticed or appreciated at all.

How I wish I could return to those days.

In recent years I’ve been working on a series of in-house service desk teams. The desks are smaller now. The largest one I worked on had 15 analysts, myself included. The smallest had two. Once again, myself included.

And the economy couldn’t be more of a reversal. Don’t feel appreciated in your job? Tough. Just try and do the best job you can and hope you can hold onto it. There are far worse things than not feeling appreciated where you work…like not having a place to work at all. That job where I was one out of two service desk analysts? I was laid off from that job…and so was my colleague. And our team lead. And his boss. That company no longer has a service desk.

As up in the air as everyone’s job situation is right now, I think it’s especially tough being in IT, because while all companies are looking to save money, which means downsizing their entire workforce, IT is in the most precarious position of all. Not because it deserves to be, but because of how management views it.

So, here are five misconceptions upper management has about IT and why IT, the service desk in particular, seems to be first on the chopping block when it comes to layoffs.

The Service Desk will Always Be Seen as an Expense

IT does not bring in any revenue, therefore it’s an expense. A necessary evil at best. In an economy where saving money is the number one priority, businesses will not be looking to fully staff their IT department because all they can see is the drain that will cause on their budget. Why hire twenty analysts to deal with issues when ten will do? And if ten will do, certainly five will as well. And on and on until you’ve just ushered your entire team out the door.

What never seems to cross their minds is that the service desk is often the reason why the other departments can make money. If other departments can’t do their work because their equipment doesn’t work, they’ll lose business and so will whatever field they’re in. That’s what IT is there for, but that is not how management views it. All they see is a department where money is being spent despite not bringing in any revenue.

“The Service Desk Never Does any Work”

You’ll hear this often, and for several reasons. Perhaps the person saying it submitted a ticket a long time back but didn’t include enough information, and the service desk can’t get ahold of them (getting clients to answer their phones when we try to call them is a daily hassle). Or maybe their ticket was escalated and the department we escalated to ran into an issue and didn’t inform the client. This happens a lot, and while the client is made aware that their issue is being escalated, they often don’t care about details like that. All they know is that they submitted a ticket to the service desk and “they haven’t done anything.”

Another reason you might hear this is due to snap judgments management likes to make when they walk by our desks. See, in their minds, service desk analysts should be on calls or “they’re not doing anything”. I remember once having a management type walk up to me needing help with a problem. I wasn’t on the phone but I was in the midst of a long project, and the first words out of his mouth were “You aren’t doing anything, so you can help me.” Maybe he didn’t mean literally “not doing anything”, but he assumed that because I wasn’t on the phone, whatever I was doing couldn’t have been important. And that’s not the only time I’ve heard it. I have repeatedly heard management types using phrases like “those service desk guys always sitting over there doing nothing” or “they look like they need something to do”, not because we’re actually not doing anything but because the perception of management is that our job is to be on the phone. In some cases, they don’t know the difference between “service desk” and “desktop services”, and thus believe we’re supposed to constantly be away from our desk resolving client issues in their offices.

Here’s the reality: service desk analysts are responsible for a ton. Most of our traffic is emailed to us and/or sent to us in the form of a ticket, not a phone call. And most of the tickets we get have to do with changes being made; new software being rolled out, employee moves or transitions, off-boarding, on-boarding, and the like. In cases like this, no phone calls are necessary, but what is necessary is updating database upon database. One employee change requires updating anywhere from three to eight databases. That’s a lot of sitting at a computer, clicking a mouse, and not being on the phone. To a casual observer who can’t see our screens (or in some cases even if they can), this looks like we’re just killing time. But more than that, we would often be engaged in special projects, including cataloguing inventory, or making a user handbook, or collecting data on apps clients are using, or just making sure various databases are up to date.

“The Desktop Team Does All the Real Work”

Recently, as I mentioned, I was ushered out of a job, along with the entire service desk, but what I didn’t mention was who was kept; the two-man desktop team, which is to say the men who performed physical repairs on broken systems. One doesn’t have to be a genius to figure out why.

As I mentioned above, the service desk has a ton of work they do, but they’re seen as non-essential, at least when compared to desktop, because, again, of perception. When a wireless hub goes bad or a printer stops working or a computer won’t boot or any of the other issues that might require on-site service, it’s desktop who shows up. IT is the department that “fixes our computer systems when they break” so there is a perception that the real “heavy lifting” in the department is done by the desktop guys, or whatever your company calls the on-site technicians.

This is false. Not to take anything away from the desktop team, but they are a relatively small part of the IT department. An absolutely necessary piece, but by no stretch the largest or the ones doing a bulk of the work. Depending on the company, desktop does not fulfill service requests. They do not maintain or update databases, they have nothing to do with software testing, rollouts or maintenance, they do not monitor the servers, and they don’t answer phones. All they do is fix issues that require a hands-on touch. They probably handle about 15% of IT’s general traffic.

Now, again, they do a lot, because a single issue they handle might take them all day, or at least several hours, depending on the severity of the problem, so I won’t for one second say they do “less work”, nor will I accuse them of sitting around waiting until something breaks down. They’re frequently not available because they’re off fixing an issue.

And one of the advantages to that is that they are highly visible. Hence the perception that they’re the guys doing the “real work”. Combine that with an attitude that the service desk does nothing, and you get management making horrible decisions like cutting the service desk and declaring that the desktop department can do both their job and whatever “meager” tasks the service desk was doing.

“We Don’t Need In-House IT; Our Systems Hardly Ever Break Down”

First, that’s likely not even true. You likely just don’t notice it because well before it starts affecting you, someone in the IT department has been made aware of it (or discovered it) and took steps to fix it before it got out of hand.

Second, if your systems really are hardly ever breaking down, this is a sure sign that you have a tremendous IT department, and you had better hang on to them for as long as you can. Your systems work as flawlessly as they do because your IT department is maintaining them, apparently extraordinarily well. Do you think the systems maintain themselves? That they are the sort of flawless machines that never need to be checked or monitored? Of course they need this, and who’s doing the checking and monitoring? The IT department!

Of course, this sort of silly statement, which I have actually heard variations of with my own ears, springs from the misconception that “fixing our computers when they break” is all IT does. I have already mentioned how much more we do, and I’ve barely even scratched the surface. Get rid of your IT department and say goodbye to ever figuring out which employees have which hardware, what plans the company cell phones are on, what access levels various employees have and/or need, you name it.

“Those IT Guys Cause All Kinds of Problems; They Don’t Know What They’re Doing”

More than any other department, IT is only noticed when something goes wrong. Each day we are tasked with doing various system checks to ensure all is running smoothly. Sometimes it is, but often there will be a potential issue looming, and it’s our job to make sure it gets taken care of. This usually means quietly dispatching a ticket to the right department and then moving on to the next issue. We, of course, can’t catch everything, and some issues happen on the user’s end, meaning we couldn’t have even been alerted to them, but by and large, we solve issues that users aren’t even aware of.

There’s a quote, which I think is from Futurama that says “If you do all things right, people can’t be sure you’ve done anything at all.” If your computer/network connection/software/printer/what-have-you works flawlessly 360 days out of the year, you’re only going to notice IT on those five days it doesn’t, falsely leading on to assume that the IT department doesn’t have much to do. As I said, we’re only noticed when something goes wrong. But it’s worse than that.

Imagine a user with a computer that’s riddled with bugs. The IT department won’t, in fact can’t, notice those bugs until they show themselves and the user complains. If a user has to do this multiple times a month, they start asking questions like “Why can’t you guys just fix this damn thing and keep it fixed?” or “Why am I always having to call you? Did you give me a bad computer?” or, best of all: “Whatever you did to fix my last problem caused all kinds of other problems!”

I hear that last one all the time. “The last time I called, you fixed my email issue, but whatever you did caused my printer to stop working!” Right, because that’s a thing that happens.

We also encounter recurring issues, and really, the only thing we can do about these is try a fix and then wait to see if it worked. This causes users to complain that “It always takes me several calls and you guys never fix it! You don’t even know what you’re doing!”

And here’s a common scenario. A user will send us a ticket for an issue they’re having, but we need to communicate with them in order to solve it. The user doesn’t know this, and is constantly unreachable. Most service desks will not spend more than three days trying to chase a user down to solve their problem. After that third day, they will close the ticket unsolved and message the user to contact them if they’re still having issues. The user then sends another ticket, and the whole process starts again. Then we get the user complaining that “You guys never help me. It takes days to get you to do anything and then you close my ticket without fixing anything!”

And that is how we become known as “the helpless desk” or thought of as a needless middle man between them and the desktop guys who “do the real work”. Therefore, management views pretty much any other aspect of IT as entirely expendable.

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