4 tips for getting the business to stop hating IT

Long seen as back-office problem solvers and the department of ‘no,’ IT still has an image problem with business executives and users alike. Here’s how to fix it.

A few years ago, the IT department at networking systems company Ciena had a virtual all-hands meeting. Although the meeting was led by the IT department and its roughly 300 employees, all of Ciena’s 6,500 employees were invited to join. The meeting was a test of the new video conferencing and collaboration tools Ciena had just deployed.

The event took place in late 2017. Both the rollout and the event had been in the works for a long time, explains CIO Craig Williams. “We’ve been on this digital transformation journey for about three years,” he says. “What if you reimagined IT and the company did it all over? You wouldn’t build data centers. You’d probably come out with a video-first strategy. You’d invest in collaboration tools and you’d support any mobile device anywhere in the world.”

At the same time as his team was introducing Ciena’s users to its new mobile-friendly collaboration tools, Williams also wanted to give them an inside view of IT’s somewhat offbeat personality. “We had a talent show,” he says. “We had break dancing and people who could fix their hair in 10 seconds.” One executive gave a presentation in which she’d been asked to include a variety of unrelated words, things like “bowling ball” and “jungle gym,” and the audience used chat to try and guess what they were. Another read a poem she’d composed for the occasion which mocked Williams, her boss.

“The feedback we got was, ‘That’s weird! That’s cool! We want to see more of that.’” he says. “That’s exactly what you want people to think, not ‘OK, I got a job to do, let me get back to it.’”

It was all part of Williams’ carefully planned strategy to project an image of IT that is different from how it’s traditionally been viewed. “IT has been in the business of fixing problems, and when you’re only in the problem-solving business you can easily get a bad rap,” he says. “But there’s an opportunity to have a different culture. At Ciena, IT positions itself as being a competitive advantage to the company. It’s what we try to be, and what I hope and believe we are.”

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