Worker Bees: An IT Resource in Plain Sight

Feeling short handed? With IT departments shouldering big burdens these days, Mike Houghton turns conventional wisdom on its head and advocates letting tech-savvy users into the fold.

From Beijing, China to Newark, New Jersey, every IT department is running lean, or to put it bluntly, short-staffed and over-tasked. So it is no wonder that a few of the other departments in your business have decided to take on the task of IT R&D by themselves. And who can blame them? Just about every department has at least one of its own tech-savvy, IT wannabes who is more than willing to do the research, download, configure and test the applications themselves, so why not let them?

Not only is the IT staff overwhelmed, but just the general complexity and technical-orientation of IT folks can make it genuinely hard for them to see what's really important to the end user community or even articulate the major business problems their customers are facing. And not all tech-related projects require a full-fledged IT professional in order to oversee testing of a new application and to get a project off the ground.

The bottom line is that they simply can’t afford to wait around for the IT folks to free up time and get caught up with the backlog of overdue and unfinished projects before they ever get the ball rolling.

A new dawn

The time has come to give a little slack on the reigns and allow these folks to work a little more independently and out from under the all seeing eye of the network administrators and the computer shop technicians. Besides, who better than the user community knows what extra applications and utilities they need to efficiently do their jobs then the users themselves?

This is by no means an attempt to undercut our IT professionals who have the experience and training required to handle these tasks. This is a wake up call to all IT managers to start thinking inside the box and allow the less technical projects to be handled by the individual departments.

Rewriting the rule book

Our IT policies are solid, the end-users are inline with the processes and it’s taken us years to wrest control that we rightly deserve over our computing realm. Giving up on this philosophy will be difficult, if not impossible, for some of you old-school techs and admins out there, but please, bear with me. You really can’t afford to look the other way on this one.

Not only are we dealing with the constant threat (overt or veiled) of outsourcing looming over our heads but we also have to endure the backstabbing betrayal of our own internal departments to deal with year after year. We need to take full advantage of every single tool, trick and live body at our disposal. This includes empowering the end-user to find their solutions, even if it means relinquishing some of the control that we worked so hard to gain.

In a typical business, there are plenty of pending projects on the books that require nothing more than a test box, a user account with local administrative privileges, a legally purchased copy of the application in question, a good note taker and lots of time to play around with it. These are the category of projects that we want to push back to the individual departments.

Before you go on a user empowerment spree, it’s smart to take some precautions. Follow this checklist when you allow individual departments to tackle their IT projects:

Lay down the rules

Although you are allowing them to install, configure, and more likely than not, break the computer, you don’t want them to take down the network, open up security holes or break any laws. Remember, you’re still the expert so give them some documented guidelines to follow while researching and testing their proposed solutions.

Offer your knowledge

Now that you’ve accepted the fact that you can use their help, be eager to lend your expertise. Listen to what their expectations are and speak up if you know for certain that what it is they are looking at will or will not pass the muster. I see folks every day that just sit back and allow the place to go up in flames just so that they can say, “I told you so.”

Ensure that licensing compliance is maintained

No one knows the issues around licensing better than IT staff and releasing a full licensed copy of an application out into the wild is certain to cause problems down the road if you don’t put safeguards in place. Keep tight tabs on any software that you allow out of your control and make your expectations of the responsibilities of the software perfectly clear.

Convene often

By keeping the lines of communication open, and at least acting like you care about what they are trying to accomplish, you’ll be part of a success story. Schedule weekly meetings, these don’t have to be in person, typically a simple phone conference will suffice. It takes less time out of your already busy schedule and still keeps everyone in the loop while allowing the users to air their frustrations. Plus, it will offer you better insight into the business expectations users and clients have for IT.

This method of enlisting whatever help is available is somewhat radical to some businesses and may not be feasible to all. But every business that I’ve been involved with all had one thing in common, and that’s a large group of folks outside of IT that are eager to help and knowledgeable about what they need.

If you can develop a method to enroll these folks into your research and development endeavors then your entire organization as a whole will benefit and prosper from it

This article was first published on

Comment and Contribute


(Maximum characters: 1200). You have characters left.