Friday, January 4, 2013

Answer The Bell

Most people that have spent more than five years in IT begin to understand the essential nature of the beast.  Yes, we could shut off the network, disable email, scramble the phone system and the company would come to a grinding halt.  But of course we don't do that because we (a) take pride in our work and (b) doing things like that result in a quick trip to the unemployment line. 

While we have a lot of *real* power in terms of our ability to affect business, IT staffers (at all levels) do not have much "inherent" power (  In other words, our positions up to and including the top, or "CIO", really don't inspire fear or awe in the average business person.  If you don't believe that, line up the CEO, CFO, COO, and CIO and have them each give the same command.  For more fun, make sure that all four look, act, and talk all the same, which in scientific terms is called "removing the bias" for external factors.  I would be willing to bet $5 that the CIO will, in general, inspire less action than the other three.  Also, just imagine out of the three, excluding the CEO, who would have more success in overruling the other.  Would it be more likely that the CIO overrules the CFO or would the opposite be true?  Again, not really a contest in most situations.

So what does all of this mean?  Why write about it?  The answer is that IT has, is, and always will be a service function.  Sure, IT is the only function in the company that truly has a view into all facets of the organization.  But that is only because that purview is required to ensure that all services are available and working as often as possible. 

Some people believe that the lack of inherent authority within positions inside the IT career path are less desirable.  Why undertake a life career within a function that few understand or respect at the same level as finance, operations, or sales?  The answer is not a simple one, which is why the United States is graduating fewer and fewer "native" IT professionals.  Let's take a look at some of the benefits of being in IT:
Now to get to the ultimate point of this post.  What does it take to be a good service provider - the one that gets jobs and then keeps them for you?  Yes, you have to possess skills that allow you to execute at an acceptable level.  That much is obvious - and no, being a superstar is not a requirement.  The true ONLY requirement is availability.  Since IT systems and services can and do break all the time, especially on nights, weekends, and holidays, it is an absolute *must* that you be available to jump on the problem immediately.  You don't even have to always solve the problem.  Most people will give you all sorts of slack, time, and understanding IF you are reachable.  To a user, or customer, nothing is more infuriating than having a problem requiring immediate attention and feeling utterly powerless because they cannot reach a single person.

How did I learn this other than the obvious answer of on-the-job training?  Here is a bit of self-disclosure; a lesson I learned in Japan during the middle nineties.  (I had a great mentor, "AH", who taught me many lessons that I still use today over 15 years later.)  We were in the Tokyo area with the task of bringing up the systems and infrastructure to support a new sales office there and a distribution site near Mount Fuji.  The place was actually called Fuji City.  In the United States when you want to do business with another company or person, you meet in the office, get right down to business, and get things done.  Not so in Japan or in other Asian countries.  Each party must first get to know each other personally because business is relationship driven.  What this meant for us was many late-night dinners.  Of course, late night dinners at least at that time also consisted of quite a bit of late-night alcohol consumption.  There were many, many nights where our business dinners didn't wrap up until 2-3am.  You can just imagine how easy it was to go from that to getting back into the office the next day.

AH was very wise and said this to me: "Christopher, you are a service provider.  The most important thing you can do, no matter how you feel or what the situation, is to be available.  You must always Answer The Bell .  If you feel like you're about to die and the office opens at 8:30, that's when you show up.  Not 8:45 or 9am - it must be 8:30am." 

What he meant is that you must always be available for your customers when they need you.  As I said so loudly above, that is how you become and stay an excellent IT professional. 

**AH also said that I could implode, break apart, or go find a dark corner in which to recover after 8:30.  I just had to be there, on time, available and ready to go when the customers expected me**

No comments:

Post a Comment