Female Tech CEO on Quest to Dispel Myths About IT

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    There’s a British sitcom called “The IT Crowd,” about a three-person IT department consisting of two guys who are stereotypical geeks, and a woman who is absolutely clueless about technology. They spend a lot of their time either ignoring the phone when support requests are called in, or responding with canned recordings of suggestions like “Have you tried turning it off and on again” and “Is it plugged in?”

    The sitcom, which I’ve never seen but plan to check out because it sounds pretty funny, was brought to my attention in an interview last week with Sarah Lahav, CEO of SysAid Technologies, a provider of IT service management software based in Tel Aviv. Lahav pointed out that the comical stereotyping notwithstanding, the show does highlight some myths that really exist, especially in the help desk world, like the notion that women on help desks aren’t as technically adept as men are.

    Lahav noted that as a woman, she is especially concerned about the gender imbalance in IT, which she attributes largely to the myth that IT is a man’s work. But her quest to dispel IT myths goes well beyond the gender issue. She explained what’s driving her quest this way:

    I’ve been talking to a lot of reporters, and attending a lot of conferences since I’ve been a CEO. It always puzzles me that people are still struggling with the basics—they don’t know what the system administrator does, and they’re still debating over whether to submit [support] tickets automatically, instead of calling. It’s just stupid. Submitting a ticket online is very simple—everybody shops online, but if you look at the percentage of tickets coming in to the average help desk, you will still see that people are calling, and not submitting. It’s just frustrating that we’re still dealing with the same things. Technology is [solving] so many challenges, and is carrying us forward, but we’re still struggling with the basics.

    According to Lahav, one of the myths she’d most like to see dispelled has to do with the Information Technology Infrastructure Library, or ITIL:

    A lot of people still don’t understand that ITIL is about providing a service. They think that when you’re talking about ITIL, you’re talking about things like cutting costs and change [management]. They fail to understand that it’s not about that. The basic concept behind ITIL is the fact that the help desk is providing service to the end user, which is the customer. That basic concept is still not understood. There’s a lot of discussion regarding the service desk, that there is the business, and there is the IT operation. No—the service desk team is the business. You need to understand your business in order to provide a service. IT and the business [aren’t separate]—there is one organization, and IT needs to understand the business. They aren’t on two different sides. There is one side: the business.

    Lahav pointed out that it’s also a myth that IT is more of a technological profession that it is a service profession. She said the persistence of that myth is one of the reasons why BYOD has presented so many problems for so many IT organizations:

    The industry is struggling with the challenge of shadow IT and BYOD. The debate around this topic is [based on the premise] that IT doesn’t embrace BYOD, and that there is shadow IT because IT isn’t embracing the cloud fast enough. If IT was embracing this technology fast enough, every company would have a BYOD policy already implemented, and shadow IT would not happen. IT would be helping other departments embrace SaaS solutions, and would understand that cloud technology needs to be embraced as soon as possible.

    Lahav said it’s essential in this regard to remember that your end users are your customers:

    Your end users are not stupid—like everyone else, they appreciate good service. But for some reason, IT thinks they need to provide everything, and the users can’t do anything on their own. IT needs to stop thinking that way. They need to provide good service—they need to enable people, and give them knowledge. People can do stuff on their own. Everyone is walking around with an iPhone or an Android—they know how to download, they know how to install. They can do simple stuff, like patches, themselves.

    Finally, since SysAid is based in Tel Aviv, I asked Lahav if there are any myths that are prevalent in the United States about IT companies in Israel. She said it’s a myth that the location of a company even matters:

    SysAid is a global organization—we have offices around the world. Good people can be found anywhere. But when we were located only in Israel, a lot of the time people thought that because of the time difference, we wouldn’t be able to support them. That was a myth, because our support is available 24/7. We have a lot of people who came from America and are working in Israel, so English is not a barrier. Working hours are not a barrier. Australians understand that if they want to work in a global organization, they need to speak to people at different hours, and it’s the same for Israel.

    A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.

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