The most pernicious perception of IT by people in other parts of the organization is that of the IT department as a fiendish group of “command and control” junkies who covet nothing but power. While this seems to be something out of a B-grade movie, it's a view that persists in many quarters and must be relegated forever to the dustbin.
It’s worth spending time to deconstruct this view:
1. Organizations suffer from constant internecine warfare and finger-pointing. The notion that a department in the same organization is designed to be aligned against the interests of another department is very dangerous.
2. As it relates to IT, most outsiders who form opinions lack any knowledge of the big picture. If IT forbids something, it is almost always the exception.
3. IT is one of the only departments that operates under a strict SLA with its customers. As such, it is far less top-down and far more collaborative than most parts of the organization.
Technology enables business as we know it today, and IT professionals are the stewards of the technologies that each of us use every day in our jobs. The incredible freedom that most knowledge workers have today is a construct that is therefore largely made possible by IT. I could go on, but you get the point. While this view is a result of personal experience (and research), I believe that I am not alone in these views.
My own experience with IT departments has been stellar and instructive. I’ve worked in both extremely large organizations, such as Microsoft, and small businesses (like the one I run now). When I talk to IT pros, I find empathetic, helpful interlocutors who understand that while I am not particularly technically inclined, I have an important job to do. I am treated in almost all cases like a valued customer.
Occasionally, I've run into the IT pro who is a rote-thinker and therefore checklist-driven. But, more often, I run into people who find creative solutions for my problem du jour. All in all, the IT pros I've had the pleasure to work with are as collaborative as any professionals I have ever encountered. On the occasions when I was forbidden to do something (such as providing passwords over the phone), I was given a clear explanation as to why my request was denied. Certainly, there are cases in which the IT department is recalcitrant or too process-driven, but I believe this is increasingly the exception, not the rule.
A useful exercise for any IT professional is to walk the halls of the organization and buttonhole people from half a dozen functional areas. Take them out for coffee and ask about the perceptions they have of your department. When you hear things that run the gamut from laughable to offensive, and then you struggle to correct those views, think about your own biases, especially as they pertain to those people who quietly run the ship and make what you do possible.
[Get more advice on how IT can change mistaken perceptions about its value and role in the enterprise in "IT Must Change Business Minds."]
What I believe you will find is that most people in the organization yearn to collaborate, share, enable, and empathize--just like you do. This creation of bridges is not only the right thing to do, it’s also the real way to create an organizational and business advantage. The more IT is integrated into the running of the business--at all levels--the healthier the overall organization.
There certainly are organizations that restrict the freedom of their employees and implement these restrictions through IT. If that is the case--and I’m sorry that you have to deal with that-- then frustrated users should blame the real culprits, not the IT professionals who are, to me, the collaborative, unsung heroes of modern business.
Here, the real culprits are senior executives (usually in lines of business or top management) who use IT to “deliver the message.” Every time you run into one of these folks, remind him or her what Bob Dylan wrote: ”The times they are a-changin’.” In other words, they need to collaborate and make common cause with the IT pro, who probably is yearning to get out of the command-and-control box. Together, democratically, you can change the organization.