Chris, our CEO, was adamant that writing about how we work with IT misses the point of our product. In his words, “We want users to be able to make changes themselves…without breaking the system. That’s the whole challenge. Stay out of IT’s way, not give them more work”
I recently overheard a discussion between our CEO and one of our newerwriters. An article about improving the relationship between software users and IT was ready for review — high stakes for the writer.
Chris, our CEO, was adamant that writing about how we work with IT misses the point of our product. In his words, “we don’t just want to make it possible for IT to change the software. We want users to be able change things themselves…without breaking the system. That’s the whole challenge. Stay out of IT’s way, not give them more work.”
What did he mean by that? I stopped to listen.
It turns out the users in this case are our data gatekeepers. In other words, people who have to collect, store, and distribute all kinds of information. And without Fieldshare, they have todo it manually. They get called aggregators, managers, and coordinators, but they function as data directors. They’re like flight control. Stuff comes in from projects and these are the people who say what goes where.
Let’s get in their heads a little. Imagine you’re a project manager and some new info arrives in your inbox. You have to put it somewhere. You would want to save it where it can be accessed in the future, right? Because that’s the whole point of collecting data: to use it later. So later rolls around. Now an executive or client needs answers, and you pull all this information together to give them a report.
If only it always went so smoothly.
What often happens instead is this: someone drops off a handwritten paper form, someone else emails to you, and there's an update in your voicemail. Since none of these systems is a native database, you copy the important bits into a spreadsheet. You create consistency. But along the way, bits get lost. Then your manager calls and asks for the phone number of a contractor who left a message on Thursday, and you spend half an hour trying to figure out who the heck that was.
Technology has failed to facilitate the collection, stoage, and access of information.
But there's another challenge, too, closer to what Chris was talking about. Sometimes technology actively gets in the way.
Your organization has tried to solve the problem, but the cure is worse than the disease. That's when you may not be able to save a file to a location because you don’t have the right permission. Or maybe an integration has failed. Maybe one system only accepts a particular filetype, but the other doesn’t export to that format. Now you need a way to convert, for example, an AutoCAD drawing to something that ArcGIS can read.
When technology gets in the way of collecting, storing, or accessing data, that’s when IT gets called in. And an organization that expects users to have to go through IT as a regular part of their workflow have a lot of unhappy people on their hands.
Involving another department adds a lot of coordination. For example, maybe IT needs to perform a search for a document that someone else saved, because only IT has filters powerful enough to pull it up. How many emails does it take to communicate exactly what you need?
Data aggregators — software power users — hate having to ask for help because every time they do, it means they have to wait. And somebody is waiting on them.
At Fieldshare, what we offer is a way for data aggregators (project managers, liabilities planners, asset managers, etc) to be their own system administrator. Fieldshare makes data control user friendly enough that it can be performed as part of a larger job, instead of requiring a specialist. We offer a lot of one-stop storage and access for filetypes and processes that would otherwise require IT’s help, and by doing so, allow data aggregators to be more independent. It also takes the pressure off IT.
But a lot of the principles we use can still be adapted by organizations that lack a centralized platform.
If your organization is experiencing tension between IT and users, a good starting place can be creating standard operating procedures (SOP's) that support and simplify your staff's workflow. It's a time consuming process, but the results are well worth it.