Saturday, February 16, 2013

When IT's On Your Side

This post is about the IT group in my current company (Netflix), but I want to set the context (and contrast) by first talking about a previous IT group with which I worked.  I'll leave the previous company anonymous.

A long, long time ago, I worked for a large company.  Their desktop support group and the purchasing group working with it loved standards.  I know, desktop support people usually are fond of standards -- that's a sane approach, because it can vastly simplify supporting and managing equipment if you don't have every one of your customers have something slightly different -- but this was on a completely different level, a "if you love it so much why don't you marry it?" level.  A few exemplary anecdotes:

  • The organization was using Lenovo Thinkpad T40s at the time (this sort of organization, they're the last who'll come to the Mac table).  When they found out the particular model they were deploying was soon going to be discontinued, they spent over a million dollars stocking up on this older model so they didn't have to change their standard for as long as possible;
  • I had a 17" LCD on my desk.  At some point I asked for something bigger, a 19" or 20" LCD. I was told by our purchasing people that they would not approve any LCD bigger than 17", because as soon as they did the floodgates would open and everyone would want a larger LCD.  As a result, as far as late 2008 we were still buying 17" LCDs at a significant premium over 19" and 20" LCDs because at this point only one company we could find was actually still making LCDs that small.
These examples are probably not normal for our industry -- I've certainly not seen it get that bad anywhere else I worked (though I also never worked for a company as big as the company above).  

I was thinking about how IT interacts with employees this last Friday because I had two interactions with our own IT folks (at Netflix), one direct and one indirect, that felt like the epitome of how IT should be thinking, and what IT should be doing.  Mind you, this is mostly in the area of what you might call employee technology -- supporting employee computing needs -- rather than, say, server upgrade projects.  But I think the lessons apply.

First example: I had an interview to do.  That's not unusual for me -- I conduct probably about ten interviews a month (more on a good month.  I like interviewing).  So I printed out the candidate's resume and ... wait, let me tell you what that actually means.

I brought up the candidate's resume on my screen, then hit cmd-P to print it.  I then went to grab a quick snack.  On the way back I passed by a printer -- not the closest one to my desk -- passed my cell phone near it, and it showed me I had one print job pending.  Printed that resume, walked with it back to my desk.  

See, a few months ago IT installed these little sensors that work with our access badges to log us into the printers.  This means I now print to a printer-independent queue, and then I can whenever is convenient walk up to any printer in our campus, authenticate myself with my access badge, and print my job right then.  From my perspective, it's a huge win: I don't have to figure out what printer I'll be going by, and I don't have to go right now because it's not printing until I show up.  It's entirely possible  that if anyone cares about it, they can actually run accounting reports to see who's printing how much, but ... I don't really care about it.  That, in addition to the fact that in the last year we've been replacing our NFC access badge keyfobs with a tiny little sticker so it's now permanently attached to my phone (no more losing my keyfob) means printing is a delightfully invisible process now.  I don't rush to printers, I don't try to figure out, based on where I'm going, what printer will be closest to me.  Print, go, if you see a printer on your way get your document there.

Second example: Netflix's approach to laptop standards is pretty simple: They have a few standard models, and if an employee wants something different, they'll figure out how much the different model is, communicate it to the employee, and if the employee is comfortable with the price they'll get the laptop.  In my case that means I've been running with a slightly non-standard Macbook with one of them newfangled magsafe-2 connectors.  More and more people are getting them, but we're still a minority.  I have a whole lot of support infrastructure for my Macbook -- about four power supplies, for pretty much everywhere I spend time (living room, bed room, laptop bag, desk), and they're all magsafe-1 power supplies.  So on Friday I asked if I could exchange two of my older power supplies for new, magsafe-2, power supplies.  They weren't in stock, but they were happy to get some for me if I wanted to email the helpdesk as a reminder.  Meanwhile, I dropped by my local desktop support room, chatted with the folks there, and was given two magsafe-1-to-magsafe-2 adapters.  No ticket.  No purchase order.  No approval.  

So what's the point here (other than "Netflix's IT people rock my world")? 

I've been in IT for a long time, and for about as long I've been a customer of IT groups.  From an ITIL perspective, Service Delivery and Service Support are particularly interesting to me, and areas I'm particularly passionate about.   My experience as IT's customer was notable to me by how absolutely invisible IT (and to some degree printers) were in the first case -- my process wasn't printer-centric, it was me/user-centric; in the second case, getting hardware from IT was about as easy as walking to the supply closet and grabbing a highlighter.  And, hell, now that I think about it, we actually have hardware supply closets and I might have been able to just get my adapters or power supplies by just visiting these closets without even talking to anyone.  

That's the way you do it.  When your customer breezes through their day not having to think about how they need to work something out with IT, when print jobs just show up wherever the customer is, or they get what they need because on their way to getting their work done they pass by some place that will just give them what they need (and do whatever process and documentation needs to happen on the back end, invisible to the customer), you become delightfully invisible.  I didn't even realize how happy IT made me on Friday, until hours after my interaction with them.  That's the goal.


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