Monday, April 2, 2007

IT = Empowering Servant

Most ministry IT staff I know have a heart that strongly wants to serve their teams well and empower them to be as successful as possible in fulfilling their mission. The surprising thing is that many don't perceive them that way. Why not?

IT Speak
Many in IT prefer to speak in terms others would never understand. Terms like SCSI, SOAP, bandwidth, TCP/IP, PCMCIA, and RAM usually confuse those who aren't IT professionals. When outsiders hear these terms they think:
  • SCSI (pronounced scuzzy) = something you wouldn't ever want to touch
  • SOAP = what you need to use after handling something SCSI
  • Bandwidth = the size of one's wedding ring
  • TCP/IP = some kind of urinary tract problem
  • PCMCIA = PC computers that are missing in action
  • RAM = forcing software, policies, etc down their throats
Let's get beyond this! Let's start speaking to IT outsiders in common English.
  • Instead of a SCSI drive, call it a hard drive where their files are stored
  • Instead of SOAP, call it a way for applications to communicate via the web
  • Instead of bandwidth, call it the speed of their Internet connection
  • Instead of TCP/IP, call it the communication connection and language style their computer uses to talk with other computers
  • Instead of PCMCIA, call it the card that goes in the slot
  • Instead of RAM, call it the amount of memory their system has for active processing
Slow Down
This one's hard... because we're busy and we can fix their problem faster than they can with our guidance. But slowing down and letting them fix their problem with our guidance is the only way to grow their knowledge and independence. And it's the only way they'll feel that we understand what they're going through.

Policy Enforcement
This one's hard too. Without policies, there's a lot more to support. Even though it takes time, consider putting together an IT policy that your leadership and board adopts. That way it's the board that has said, "No."... you're just the messenger.

And have an appeal process for those circumstances when a team member needs to go around the policy. Most won't bother with it and just choose to comply, and those that do use it are probably those who can demonstrate a good case for their need.

If this seems like a daunting task, consider our firm's IT Policy & Procedure Handbook (offered at We've heard from many that it got them a lot further than they ever thought they'd get, and did so with very little effort. That’s why we wrote it... to serve.


David S. said...

I agree; this is something I've had to adapt to in my role as one-man IT department in order to explain things to my users...and they rave about my support, so I must be doing something right :-) It is frustrating sometimes, however, because while I've gotten good with practice, I enjoy the "geek speak" with peers more than down-translating, so I find myself not wanting to do the support piece as much. It remains part of the job for now, but if something were to change in the future, this might be it.

Also, I would disagree that people don't know what "bandwidth" is; today high-speed internet with "lots of bandwidth" is so pervasive, I think most people understand its meaning. I could be wrong.

Nick Nicholaou said...

I agree, David. Giving good support often means digging deeper and being very intentional. Congrats to you for being perceived so positively in your ministry!