Wednesday, 28 October 2009

I don’t know what I want – but I want it now!

Anyone that has had young children or has worked with them will know the feeling. Children can’t articulate what it is they want, and because the adults around them don’t understand them, they don’t get what it is they think they want (and often if they do get it, it turns out not to be what they really do want!).

Sadly this is often the case with many business people as well. They don’t understand the technical side of technology, and can’t use the right terminology to explain what they need (and often don’t actually know what it is they want). This can cause enormous frustrations on both sides – IT people are expected to be mind readers and business people are surprised that their simple requests seem to be so hard to fulfill.

We’ve had an example of this just recently – Sales wanted a report that would show some sales figures. However, they assumed that it was just a case of “output sales figures”. When it was then identified that there are a large number of fields in the database that hold different figures showing different things, they simply couldn’t understand this. As a result, the report produced is meaningless because it produces the wrong values for what they need. After several rewrites, it still doesn’t give what they want, and we appear to be nowhere near getting a satisfactory output.

Another issue has been some data that was used in a system that is not part of our remit to look after. That system has failed and they cannot get access. We’ve taken on the challenge of recovering the data, and we were getting phone calls every hour to ask how we were getting on. Fortunately, we have found a way, but it is irritating to have to keep explaining that the interruptions are delaying the process and as we are not psychic, we don’t know how long the process will take.

This is not a new problem, nor is it just confined to specific areas of the business. I’m sure that everyone has had to explain to senior managers that just because they have one copy of Office 97, they can’t install it on every single PC. Similarly, they are very keen to block access to web sites that they think are inappropriate for work, but it then turns out that they were the ones going to those sites!

Over the past few months, there has been a lot of discussion about future developments within IT; a lot of this focuses on the development of cloud computing. I’m not entirely convinced that it is the best way forward for everyone, although I can see some major advantages in certain circumstances. However, the problem is that some of those concerns are of a technical nature – the business people don’t understand the potential problems, and therefore can’t see the risks involved.

The problem is of course that many of the individuals concerned simply don’t want to learn the technical side of things – it then falls to the more technically minded to try to educate them in an appropriate way so that they can appreciate the problem. However, to do that, we have to be able to understand what they need so that we can provide the correct response, and in a way that they will appreciate the message. Basically, we need all IT staff to develop a certain level of business acumen (or to enhance their parenting skills!)

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