Tuesday 3 May 2011

This big metal circular things with the ladders up the side

Otherwise known as silos. The things which contain grain and other mysterious substances which I was told to stay away from as a child roaming the fields surrounding our village freely - silos and slurry pits, the enemies of the right to roam.

Leaving slurry pits aside (though there temptation to weave them into this post is strong), silos are also the things which people appear to choose to work in, unless consistently and constantly nudged out of them. Or is that the case? I'm not sure.

You see, you wouldn't find a manager ignoring any budgeting training offered as soon as he'd received his promotion which suddenly meant he had to care about such things. You wouldn't find a manager ignoring the dealing with conflict training, nor the dealing with repeated sickness absence training either. Both provided consistently and adequately at the least by our internal Human Resourses Department in every organisation, both public and private, that I have worked for.

So why is there no ICT training? I'm not talking about Beginners Excel here (though it would be encouraging if most of my managers in the past had some modicum of a clue about the SUM function, because frankly, how do you budget these days without it? Current managers, I'd like to state, are most definitely familiar with such things). I'm talking understanding the ICT function. I'm talking about understanding why ICT Departments often swallow large budgets, something which at the moment might be more than a little cause for some resentment. I am talking about procuring from ICT as a customer and understanding how to ask for the right equipment - sometimes a straight 'this PC is broken, can I have a new one' is not the best outcome when the users needs, job requirements and technology have all moved on from 10 years ago, the average age of a public sector base unit, in my experience. I'm talking a basic attempt at understanding the infrastructure - it should be on the intranet and mapped so that when ICT say something has fallen over, other Directors can understand the business implications and knock on effects for themselves without needing to be told - after all, if the payroll system fell over, you'd know immediately what the impact of that was, wouldn't you?

In the same way that understanding budget forecasts, reserves and other technicalities of financial nuance is your responsibility as a manager the more senior you become, I strongly suggest that now is the time to be asking some questions about where your ICT budget is being spent. Is your organisation geared up for the increased reliance on computers, social media, streaming live conferences to save money in attending them, the bandwidth requirement of an entire organisation using Tweetdeck to stream information? Are you still locked down from viewing some sites and if so why (just because you don't use those sites does not mean your staff could not be benefitting greatly from seeing them from a learning and development point of view). Do you understand the direction ICT is taking in either investing in bigger data farms as opposed to storing data in the cloud (on Google Documents, for example) and are you familiar with the security problems, been given an overview of the Data Protection Act or know why some people within your organisation are given laptops and can work from home and others cannot?

Ignorance is not an excuse. If you are smart enough to get your head around financial implications of central government directives and mandates you are smart enough to understand overviews of everything your ICT Department is doing.

And before ICT bods start breathing a sigh of relief - you're next. These people are your customers and your stakeholders. They procure from you, they give you money, they see less budget because you see more. You tell them day in and day out only why they may not have something - and never why they suddenly might be able to. You do not, in my experience, explaing your reasoning, you do not make yourselves accessible, you do not come out of your Department unless absolutely forced or on tech support duty, you don't explain your future plans for infrastructure or business transformation. When do you communiate, it is in terminology and acronyms only Bill Gates could love.

Sort it out. You've got a PR problem. It's a really easy thing to fix. Don't stop saying no - just tell people why you're saying no - if you can't open Facebook to the masses because your 15 year old infrastructure wont cope with the increased traffic - tell your customers so. Use diagrams if you must. But whatever it takes, explain.

There's fault on both sides here, and this post is written from personal experience (though it is categorically not indicative of the current modus operandi of our current ICT Department). If your experience is different, please let me know. If you think I am being unfair, please let me know.

But from where I am sitting, at the hub of all of this, is silo working, severe intimidation of those outside of ICT by the unintentionally thoughtless bandying of acronmys and obscure terminology by those within it and absolutely appalling communication.

This post inspired entirely by @pubstrat's rather excellent post on ICT in central government.

1 comment:

  1. Question for you: how many local authorities have outsourced IT departments to the private sector at this time? This was the case in my last post five years ago, and honestly, practically everyone was actively discouraged from engaging with IT. They seemed to be responsible for everything and nothing and if I ever had to speak to the helpdesk they would frequently be extremely surprised that I could speak geek. It took forever to get anything done so the vast majority of people just disengaged completely. My suspicion is that there's quite an us-and-them legacy there, even if IT's been brought back in house.