Ensuring Proper Use of Information Technology

I recently Tweeted about the two possible paths in IT – building toolboxes or cages. Most of us who enter a career in IT do so because we have a fascination with the power of information technology, as well as a facility with working with that technology. Then we find a way to get paid to play with these fascinating toys. 

We start out full of ideas and excitement and ready to make “our” systems get up and dance to the delight of all. We are like magicians, and, now that we have gesture-based input, the differences between us and Gandalf seem to be fading away. 
But, as a wise man I know is fond of saying, “Engineers build tools that engineers like to use.” Thus we find than our exploits are most impressive to our colleagues in IT: “You did that in one line of code?!” or “That’s the craziest SQL query I’ve ever seen” or “Hey, can I get access to your 60 node Hadoop cluster?”

The users, on the other hand, use our tools, but they never seem to properly appreciate them or the effort it took to build them or that it takes to maintain them. In fact, they complain more often than they praise, most of their complaints end up being their fault, and they’re downright abusive to our creations.

Ok, ok, so it’s a job, and we’ve all been trained that debugging, maintenance, input validation, and security are all part of the job. But they’re not the fun part.

It’s part of our job to keep the systems running. If they go down, slow down, or run out of resources, we have to fix them. And, if we’re smart, we take steps to prevent them from having problems in the first place. 

One option we have is configuring the system so that the users are prevented from abusing it. If the mail server is running out of space, and we see that there are 237 copies of a video of a cat falling over, it’s trivial to wave our fingers and set a quota (reasonably large, of course) that really only affects the worst offenders. After all, even if you’ve exceeded the quota solely with work-related powerpoints and proposals, you shouldn’t be using the mail server as your personal file storage anyway.

This is easy, and it makes sense.

Another option is to propose, plan, and implement an increase to the capacity of the system. After all, the users aren’t being paid to keep their mailboxes clean, and if the mailserver is becoming a de facto file server, then perhaps we could view that as a win, an unintended 80% solution to a problem we’d never been asked to fix. And perhaps we need to look at how convenient our real file server is to use, but that’s a task for another day. 

But that’s harder, so why should we do it?

Because we are support staff. And we serve and support the people in our organization who actually fulfill the organization’s purpose. Your systems can be the force multipliers that help people cure the patient, sell the product, or stop the attack.

Or you can make sure they’re only used “properly.”

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