Thursday, Mar 12 2015

Top Ways to Bridge the Gap between IT and Customers

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05 Top Ways to Bridge the Gap between IT and Customers

The idea that the IT staff remains tucked in the back room surrounded by machines, emerging only when some technical problem occurs that no one else understands, is rapidly becoming a myth. Today’s IT shops are moving toward greater collaboration, with the understanding that when users and IT work together, better systems result.

Increased collaboration between IT and customers is best-accomplished through greater integration with the rest of the business. This organizational collaboration can not only improve the technologies being used, but also help IT pros advance their careers through better soft skills and more recognition.

Here are four ways your organization can bridge the gap between IT and its customers, whether they’re business users or company clients.

Partner IT staff with other departments

In an organization with multiple departments, IT typically serves a function for all of them. One of the best ways to bridge tech people with the rest of the company is to assign IT staff to a specific department, allowing them to partner with a business unit and focus on solutions for that unit.

By working directly with another department, IT can solve problems more efficiently. In these types of partnerships, technology may actually be the last solution IT turns to — the partner should first consider whether the issue can be solved by bringing in different people, or implementing new processes. This improves IT efficiency, reduces costs, and diminishes wasted time and resources.

The partner approach can also help IT professionals enhance their careers. Opportunities to work directly with another department allow them to broaden their soft skills and increase problem-solving abilities, while exposing them to different processes within the company.

Consider decentralizing

In larger organizations where IT is responsible for keeping multiple departments up and running, creating centers of innovation can vastly improve processes and efficiency. Build small, specialized IT teams, each focused on working directly with one department, and maintain a core IT department to oversee the individual teams.

This type of structure works best in organizations that rely on innovation and integration, such as medical facilities, corporations, and large-scale or industrial production. A decentralized IT program also encourages tech employees to participate directly in other aspects of the organization, and develop a greater understanding of their focus areas to streamline operations and drive innovation.

Connect IT with end users

Even integrated IT staff are often confined to working within the organization, and rarely have the opportunity to interact with the people who use the company’s products or services. By facilitating interaction between IT employees and end users, you can encourage fresh ideas and stronger motivations to perform.

There are several ways to connect IT people with customers. Regular visits to other business units is a good start, but you can also send IT staff out with sales reps or other external-facing employees to shadow their interactions, or even organize business functions where the staff and customers have the chance to mingle. When IT is able to see the impact their work has on real people, they’re more engaged and motivated to deliver the best possible experience for end users.

Come out of the cave

In small to mid-sized companies and more integrated work environments that don’t necessarily have many departments, IT employees should be encouraged to leave the back room and spend time on the shop floor, so to speak. The more interaction IT has with the rest of the employees and the rest of the business, the better their understanding of their own function within the company.

Through direct observation of business processes, IT professionals can often spot issues that no one had been able to pinpoint previously, and make changes that will improve efficiency. Encourage IT staff to ask other employees questions and listen carefully to the responses, so they can develop a sense of the real needs of the business — and come up with more creative ways to meet them.

Regardless of company size, frequent interaction with other employees and end users can help IT professionals further their careers. They’re able to develop skills that are underused in direct IT work, and demonstrate that tech people are people, too — breaking down the stereotypes and perceptions that would otherwise prevent them from advancing.