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IT Security

Users and IT teams - why mutual respect is so important

21. March 2022, Avatar of Mathias HohnMathias Hohn

"My computer boots so slowly that I have more than enough time to go and get a coffee. IT probably installed some kind of update again.” That’s probably what many users at offices here in Germany and other countries are saying or thinking when they get to their desks in the morning.

On the other hand, IT admins might be exchanging comments like, "Bob and Mary have bricked their laptops again. Don't they realize that they can't just install any software?" Of course, it's easy to imagine that those and similar frustrations expressed by users and IT staff can take on qualities that we’d rather not quote verbatim here.

In both cases, users and IT staff share the unwavering belief that the other is incompetent and has no idea what the world is really like. If you nodded in recognition while reading this little ironic scenario, this blog post has already achieved its first goal.

It always seems that everyone else is incapable. For users, what they know is that they: 

  • urgently need to finish the report for their boss, or…
  • must complete edits to the sales presentation they’re giving that afternoon.

Meantime, the IT team has a priority to-do list that includes:

  • installing another time-critical patch to protect the company from the latest threat, or…
  • cleaning up a user’s laptop after they installed a “cool new app,” or…
  • … or, or, or…

Each of us could probably continue these lists endlessly confident in our assessment of the other person’s lack of intelligence, judgement or understanding. 
The bottom line is: We judge others by their actions, but ourselves by our intentions. 

User perspective versus admin perspective

IT admins are justifiably paranoid about knowing that all software installed on company PCs is trustworthy and up-to-date, and that systems are properly configured to avoid performance or security problems. Normally you have at least 24 hours to install an update. So why not do it when users are out for lunch or shutting down at the end of the day?

Users want to keep up with deadlines and use apps that help them do their best work as efficiently as possible. So they’re thinking. “Why does IT seem to block every innovation and not allow me to try out this or that app? It's so practical!"

Well, the situation is often a bit more complex: Users may be unaware that one app or another may be incompatible or have major security vulnerabilities with serious consequences simply from installing it. That’s why some IT departments consistently prohibit users from installing anything on their own. After all, keeping everything locked down and under tight control is a good way to ensure maximum security!

Individual assignment of rights - not always practicable

As the person responsible for IT, who do you allow to do what? In a small company with just a few employees, it is certainly feasible to assign rights to vetted tech-savvy users. But it is simply impossible to check everyone’s IT knowledge and security awareness when headcounts get much beyond 15 or 20. That’s why most IT admins ultimately have no alternative but to impose strict rules to minimize cybersecurity exposure.

Perhaps it helps if the users on one side and the IT teams on the other try to understand each other's perspective. Suddenly, users may recognize that not every latest-and-greatest app or add-in provides the benefits they expect. And IT admins may suddenly understand why a sales or board presentation is a higher priority than distributing another system update.

Thinking outside the box? Yes, again and again!

The most important and effective thing to do to achieve that degree of mutual understanding is this: treat each other person with respect as a matter of principle. If everyone starts from the basic assumption that the other person is trying to do his or her job as well as possible and is acting with the best intentions, a lot has already been gained.

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