Stick to IT, Don’t Become Another Department

I see this very regularly, it seems to be a huge temptation of IT departments to overstep IT bounds and want to take on the roles and responsibilities of other company departments. In the SMB this might be a lot more true because there isn’t a clear demarcation of IT versus other departments, job roles are often shared, there aren’t good policies and procedures, there aren’t people doing those other jobs, etc. And there is always the possibility that these cross-domain responsibilities are truly assigned to IT. But nine times out of ten, this is not the case.

I believe that this behaviour stems from a few things:

  1. People tend to work in IT because they are “smarter” or at least “more interested” about most things than average people so we tend to carry a lot of general knowledge that allows us to act as a competent member of any department (IT can do HR’s job in a pinch, is the reverse commonly true?)
  2. IT tends to get thrown whatever work other departments don’t want to do and can get away with handing off (can you print this for us? can you fix my microwave? the fuse has blown!  have you any experience with sprinklers?) So we get into this mindset from other departments’ behaviors towards us.
  3. We have a broad view into the organization as a whole, moreso than almost any other department.
  4. We tend to be passionate about doing things the “right way” – which is often based on technical excellence or industry common practice but may not account for the specific business needs nor unique factors.

Put together, these, and other, factors make us tend to want to get involved in anything and everything in and around the businesses which we serve. Questions around involvement in other departments’ activities come up regularly. To establish just how skewed our thinking about this behavior tends to be – we see IT people asking IT people what their responsibility is rather than talking to their own business’ management who are the ones actually making that decision. This isn’t about best practice, it is about following your own company’s rules.

Some examples of places where IT people like to jump in and try to be other departments:

  • “People are surfing Facebook at work, I have to stop them.” – Do you? Is this a business decision or is IT just making HR or security decisions for those departments? IT bringing this up as a topic is great, but feeling a need to enforce personal work habit decisions should probably be left to the business owner, manager or designated department like HR, legal or security.
  • Spying on end users, capturing passwords, etc. – Did the legal department ask you to do this? If not, don’t take on legal and security responsibilities, especially ones that might carry fines or even  jail time in your local jurisdiction!  We risk turning the tables from suspecting someone else to being the culprits ourselves.
  • Pressuring the business about fire hazards, safety issues (that are not your own), etc. – See something, say something. Awesome. Don’t be the cause of bad behaviour yourself. But if the business isn’t concerned about these things once reported, unless it is a legal issue that you need to turn over to the police, don’t feel that this is IT’s job. The janitor doesn’t feel this way, HR doesn’t feel this way, IT shouldn’t either. If the business decides to not care, you shouldn’t either. (Example was AJ talking about stringing surge protectors together.)
  • The business can’t be down! – IT loves this one. This might be us pushing for high availability clusters or just overbuilt servers or who knows what. The reality is, this is 100% a financial decision that the accounting, financial and CFO teams should be making. IT has no idea how much the business can be or can’t be down – we just know how much it costs to mitigate how much risk. We feed data to the financial people who come back with the risk/reward evaluation. IT shouldn’t be making financial decisions on any scale.

I could go on and on. HR, finance, security, facilities management, legal – we want to get involved in all of these job roles. But is it our responsibility to do so? Maybe it is in your case, but normally, it is not. We take on personal and professional risk in order to push our ideas and opinions on businesses that often aren’t interested in our input (in those areas.)

Step back and look at your relationship to the business. Are you making suggestions and decisions that line up with your role within the business and with the business’ unique needs? Keep perspective. It is so easy to get caught up in IT doing things the “right” way that we forget that the business might not share our opinions of what is right and wrong for them – and we aren’t in IT just for the sake of being in IT, but for the purpose of supporting the business.

[Reprinted from a post in Spiceworks, January 8, 2013]

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