The Key to Information Technology Success – Managing Expectations

Whether you work for an IT firm or as part of an IT department in a larger organization, you are employed in the service industry.  The primary purpose of Information Technology is to facilitate the use of technology in the day-to-day assignments of your clients.

The difference between IT and any other service industry is that IT is judged by its failures.  If an organization’s IT systems are running smoothly, and people have access to the applications and data they require in a fashion suitable to their needs, IT is an afterthought.  However, if backups fail, data is lost, or users are not able to access their applications, the blame falls square on the shoulders of the IT team.

If a water pipe were to burst in a person’s home, thousands of dollars in damage could be done.  The appropriate expert – a plumber – would be called in to repair the damage, advise on the cause and suggest prevention methods for the future, but the plumber will never be blamed for the burst pipe (assuming he hadn’t installed it the night before).

In the Information Technology world, a simple switch could fail, causing a network outage preventing users from sending and receiving email (to the end user, the “data pipe” burst.)   Unlike the plumber, the IT team will often be accused of allowing the interruption to happen in the first place, and then will be called and asked to find and resolve an issue for which they have already taken the blame.

Of course there are ways IT can monitor for such failures, but equally important is managing expectations.

The great majority of an IT professional’s customers are reasonable.  People generally understand that failures can occur, and some outages are unavoidable.  What people will not tolerate is a lack of communication.

As an IT person, answering someone’s question with “I don’t know, but I will find out and get back to you” is completely reasonable.  In fact, this answer will go a long way to solidifying your reputation, providing you fulfill your promise and do get back to them.  Making up an answer that “sounds good” will eventually suggest dishonesty or ineptitude.  Brushing the user off entirely can be infuriating.

People do not expect instant resolutions to their IT issues, but they do want to know that someone is listening and taking their concerns seriously.  If something is going to take you a month to fix, let them know it is going to be at least a month.  If you are ordering parts, reach out and inform the end user and let them know the item has been shipped, or it is held up at customs, or whatever the actual status is.  You will find the clients in your service industry appreciate your “service” skills much more than your technical skills.