Perhaps you’ve heard of Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. Started in 1992, this event takes place on the fourth Thursday in April and is intended to broaden the horizons of our young people and to help them explore life choices.
Long before this day officially existed on the calendar, I can remember the excitement of accompanying my dad, a sound engineer for CBS Radio, and my mom, a legal secretary at The Hartford Insurance Company, to their offices. After such visits I understood so much better what my parents did during the day. I gained new respect for them and a greater appreciation for the work they did, and was more sympathetic on those days when they came home tired or grouchy.
This workplace visitation idea isn’t just for kids, though. At a November forum for SAS customers, I met the head of an analytics group at an international consulting firm who has taken the concept to a whole new level. He was concerned that his team of modelers, hard at work on the math and science of call center operations, didn’t have a clear picture of how a call center actually works. It’s easy to ignore the details surrounding taking calls, listening to problems, researching answers, making some necessary small talk, and many other factors that disrupt the perfection of a statistical model.
So he took his team on a field trip – to the call center itself! The modelers gained a greater appreciation of the mechanics of the operation, and better still, had a sense of how their hard work benefits their company by helping to improve customer experience.
This got me thinking: what if business organizations could "take IT to work," and what if IT could "take the business to work?" What could be gained?
In previous blog posts I’ve talked about how IT and the business speak different languages and have different priorities, and have offered suggestions to improve communication. But actually seeing what the other group does … we could really be on to something here. Now, it’s not always going to be practical to physically visit the other organization – they may be located in a different city or state or even halfway across the globe. But with web and video conferencing, live chat, and all manner of other conferencing capabilities your company probably uses regularly, the opportunities for the “you are there” experience are numerous.
SAS Users: Take IT to Work!
Some SAS users spend a large part of their time producing code to run models, analyze data and produce reports. This highly focused intellectual exercise is likely quite stimulating and interesting for SAS programmers, but inviting IT to watch programmers do their programming could be about as exciting as watching paint dry.
But what if the task of programming could be described from the big picture perspective? Look for ways to show how programming is an exercise in collecting and manipulating the necessary data, developing a program through a process of trial and error, and then fine tuning the results to produce the most impactful output. The IT organization, learning all that is involved in producing that final report, might understand better the importance of the availability of data and computing resources and sympathize with the user experience of submitting a job and waiting for the results.
Another task often performed by SAS users is working with their customers – either within the company or external clients – to determine what sort of report or analysis is needed, what the constraints are, the required time frame, and other details. This project management-type responsibility might seem very familiar to your IT visitors, since they have the same responsibility when it comes to working with their internal clients. Discuss how you go about balancing time, resources, and expectations; greater understanding and cooperation between the groups could result.
IT: Take the SAS Users to Work!
Now that IT has gained a greater appreciation of the job of the SAS users by being their guests for a view of “a day in the life,” it’s time to return the favor. The data center is a mysterious, chilly place filled with humming and whirring noises and blinking lights. Most people find visiting a data center to be quite interesting, but for SAS users in particular, seeing where their data lives and how much machinery is needed to keep their corporate intelligence flowing, could result in a whole new appreciation for what’s involved when they fire up their computers in the morning. Getting a feel for a day in the life of an IT professional could go a long way toward understanding maintenance schedules, down times, delays in responses to requests for access to a new data source, and so on.
Furthermore, better perspective may be gained by seeing first-hand that IT is responsible for other systems and applications besides SAS, not the least of which may include the phone systems, the databases, system security, desktop applications, and much more.
Conclusion: Greater Understanding and More Empathy
Visiting SAS users at work might not make IT professionals want to drop everything and learn to use SAS. Visiting the data center might not make SAS users want to drop everything to become IT professionals. But what just might result from a physical or virtual field trip into the other organization’s world is greater awareness and appreciation. Most people, whether on the Business or IT side, just want to do a good job and go home, and gaining corporate allies across the aisle can be extremely beneficial.
Let me know what you think of this cross-disciplinary sharing idea, and please contribute other ideas to achieve greater understanding and improve communications. I’d love to hear them.