Can IT Break 'Executive Exceptions' Habit?

Ann All

Exceptions are the enemy of any process-improvement effort, since such efforts invariably involve standardizing processes when and where possible. That's one of the reasons why it's so hard to sell business people on the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) and other IT service management frameworks. Do people want more efficient IT? Of course they do, but not if it means they no longer get to call on an IT pro to fix a problem that just can't wait.


Patrick Bolger, chief marketing officer of Hornbill, a provider of service management software, touched on this when I interviewed him about ITIL several months back. He told me:

... From IT's customers within the organization, if they can shout loudly enough and get something today, then why would they want to do something that may make them wait longer to get access to an application? The standard process in many organizations is for someone to complain to their boss, who complains to his boss, who shouts to the CIO, and then something gets done.

Sounds like the users are being jerks, doesn't it? Maybe they are, but only because IT personnel let them get away with it, writes Eric D. Brown on his blog. He says:

The IT group forces users to use the IT helpdesk for any service requests. Except for when it's "really" important or if the requester is someone "important." So.what do people do? Do they call the helpdesk and wait for two days to get their minor computer issue working or do they make the issue more important than it is? Or do they escalate to their boss (who escalates to her boss, etc) and get IT to fix the issue now? This happens every day in every organization, and it happens because it's allowed to. It happens because the IT group has allowed the "important" people to have their issues addressed differently than the "regular" folks.

You know what? He's right. At most companies, IT routinely makes exceptions for senior managers, creating ill will among non-managers and perpetuating the cycle Brown describes, where they learn to get results by bitching to their bosses.


Brown advises IT to:

Remove the contradictions. Remove the exceptions. Everyone goes through the same process.

That sounds good. But is it realistic for most organizations? It won't work unless you can get top executives to buy into it. It occurs to me IT might be able to get the support of those executives by having them walk a mile in their shoes. Perhaps forward-thinking business executives should follow the example of Microsoft CIO Tony Scott, who put in a stint at the call center to get a better handle on customer issues.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Aug 17, 2010 6:41 PM Eric D. Brown Eric D. Brown  says:

Ann - Thanks for the quote and link to my post.

Is it realistic for organizations to remove the exceptions & contradictions?  I think so...but, like you say, it will take very senior level buy-in to make it happen.

If CIO's and other leaders/managers can spend some time 'in the trenches', that buy-in might be easier to get.


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