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Air Time: IT Support: Who You Gonna Call?: Page 2 of 3

Communication and support problems exist in almost every sector of IT, where disruptive changes are made to systems with little advance notice and hardly ever a clear explanation. The phenomenon is felt most viscerally when it comes to changes in security practices, where hurdles are often erected between information and users. Users understand the need for IT policies that protect enterprise assets, but providing a rational connection between policy and operations often requires more creative interpretation by users than we have the right to expect.

In most organizations, the roots of the problem lie in the organizational structure of IT and in efforts to enhance operational efficiency. Managers try to insulate their most knowledgeable application developers, system administrators and network engineers from direct contact with end users. If these highly paid professionals had to answer simple and repetitive questions all day, how would any "real work" ever get done? Thus, conventional best practice is to implement multitiered problem-escalation models, where only the toughest, most obscure problems make their way to senior staff. And communication about system changes is filtered through many levels.

This support model may be efficient, but it is seldom effective. By protecting the senior staff from end users, a vital feedback link is severed. Taken to its extreme, system providers become totally disengaged from the people who rely on their services, hardly a recipe for success.

There's no easy solution to this problem, but several steps can be taken to improve the status quo.

First, organizational boundaries must be redefined and technical competence of support staff elevated, to improve problem solving and to establish better internal communications. Systematic internal IT training programs must be implemented, not only to help front-line staff understand systems and associated policies but also to help backroom staff feel the pain of supporting users.