The Problem with IT and the Digital Workplace

3 minute read
Gerry McGovern avatar

Technology is what drives the digital workplace and yet for many business executives, the IT department is being seen as less and less relevant.

“On the whole, executives’ current perceptions of IT performance are decidedly negative,” a McKinsey survey published in February 2015 states. “Beyond providing basic services and managing infrastructure, just one-third or less of respondents say their IT functions are very or extremely effective at a wide range of tasks.” According to the survey, “The results also indicate fading confidence in IT’s ability to support key business activities, such as driving growth. In the 2012 survey on business and technology, 57 percent of executives said IT facilitated their companies’ ability to enter new markets. Now only 35 percent say IT facilitates market entry.”

The core problem is that the culture of IT is all wrong. In all my years working with IT departments, I don’t think I have ever come across one that truly cared about usability. Many IT departments buy the system before they have even defined the need. For example, it is standard practice for IT to buy a content management system, and then hand it over to communications or whoever and say: "Fill that with content." The use of the system is irrelevant in traditional IT. What matters is the system itself, and all its technical bells, whistles and future-proofing mirages.

IT is also obsessed with savings costs. But it is the ultimate "penny rich, pound foolish" culture. According to the McKinsey survey, “Nearly half of technology respondents see cost cutting as a top priority -- in stark contrast to the business side, where respondents say that supporting managerial decision making is one of IT’s top priorities.”

We live in and work in an increasingly digital world. IT should be leading the way. Every year, the IT department should be increasing in importance to the organization. And yet the opposite is happening. Why?

Because IT has little concept of value. It only thinks about costs and the technology itself. That’s why IT embraced content management systems that facilitated distributed publishing. Because distributed publishing is the cheapest way to publish content. The IT bottom line is too often about the cheapest way to do things, not the best way.

Learning Opportunities

The result? Intranet monstrosities that are full of junk, out-of-date content, search engines that don’t work, and an internal set of tools that behave more like employee torture devices.

Amazon, Google, Twitter, Facebook, et al., have shamed internal IT systems. They have exposed them for the cumbersome, over-engineered, anti-employee horrors that they are.

It is not simply IT’s fault. Senior management do not respect their employees’ time, particularly when they are knowledge workers. In the modern organization there is an obsession with headcount. Helping employees (that you didn’t fire) save time as they search for information, input sales leads, book a meeting room, etc., is simply not on the agenda of senior management. (And they wonder why the number one feeling of employees worldwide is a sense of being overwhelmed?)

It doesn’t have to be this way. The opportunities of the digital workplace are massive if we switch the emphasis to productivity, efficiency, simplicity and usability. We must focus on outcomes (employees being able to do things), not inputs (we bought this, we installed that, on time, to budget and unusable). 

About the author

Gerry McGovern

Gerry McGovern is the founder and CEO of Customer Carewords. He is widely regarded as the worldwide authority on increasing web satisfaction by managing customer tasks.