The IT Totem Pole and the Information Professional

Phil Green

Phil Green

August 09, 2016

I talk to lots of information professionals about IT. Some have great relationships with IT, others not so great. But if you’re leveraging technology to build and maintain your collection and information/knowledge systems—and who isn’t?—then just like death and taxes, it’s inevitable that you’ll be working with IT.

In my next couple of blog posts, I’ll explore some key issues related to partnering with IT, and offer thoughts on how you can make that relationship work to your advantage.

The totem pole

In my experience, the relationship between IT and the information professional is dominated by what I call the IT Totem Pole. It’s critical to ask and answer the question, “Where are you on the IT totem pole?”

To answer this, we need to look at IT’s priorities. In most organizations, IT is focused on items such as revenue generation or e-commerce, the website, the ERP system, etc., and unfortunately, this means that knowledge systems or the corporate library are pretty low on the totem pole. This point was driven home to me during a client visit many years ago in New York. We were in a meeting at a world famous artistic organization with both the manager of a key information system and the IT manager. The information professional was working on a project for the Board of Directors and she needed IT help. The IT manager put it in very simple terms: “I have two priorities: sell tickets and help ticket holders find parking the night of a concert. I am really sorry, but I do not know when we will have time to support you.”

The consequences

Because information professionals tend to be low on the totem pole, the following things tend to happen:

  1. When information professionals need IT support, they often have to wait a long time.
  2. When IT builds something for information professionals, they often get stuck with version 1—and versions 2 or 3 never get built. This is because IT gets switched back to higher priorities, which means that feedback regarding functionality and usability is never incorporated. Therefore, version 1 is the only version that ever gets built, and thus often feels unfinished and unloved.

Information professionals need a strategy to deal with a lack of robust IT support. Without a strategy, you are doomed to poor service and subpar software.

Your strategy

To combat problem 2, I strongly recommend that information professionals license or subscribe to software that enables you to build and manage your system. This gets you out of the trap of running subpar, under-supported, home-grown solutions. Make sure you pick a vendor who provides regular updates and upgrades, keeping your software up-to-date with marketplace innovations. These updates should be included as part of your annual subscription or maintenance fees, so engage with your vendor about what’s in the development pipeline and make your enhancement requests well known.

To combat problem 1, look for software that is highly configurable and doesn’t require programming knowledge; this enables you to be independent of IT. And the less dependent you are on IT, the less time you’ll spend waiting.

Finally, if your IT team is pushing to move your collection to SharePoint or some other in-house system, I recommend a strategy that I refer to as “IT Jujutsu,” which is the topic of my next post, coming soon.

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