IT Governance

Could Better IT Support Make Users More Ignorant?

Could the very IT support innovations that are making life easier now actually hurt business in the long run? Possibly, answers Kevin Fogarty in an article for Computerworld, if IT assists end-users without also educating them in turn. He shares research from Pennsylvania State University’s Erika Poole that shows too much help can leave a person enfeebled rather than empowered.

An assistant professor of Information Sciences and Technology, Poole recorded several weeks’ worth of interactions between techie and non-techie members of 10 households. Here’s what she found:

Depending on others for even simple technical help can make non-geeks even more reluctant to ask for help or training, trapping both them and their significant, or to be taught how to do things themselves, leaving them far less able to deal with their own technical problems than they would have been otherwise, and trapping tech-savvy members of the group into permanent tech-support roles.

Geek Weeks

Poole discovered that the tech-savvy of each group took control from Day One, without allowing non-technically minded people to experiment or test their knowledge. The techie group made decisions for all members of the household while their non-tech relations looked on with growing respect (but also a growing sense of helplessness) when it came to new tech. The identity of being a ‘non-technical person’ was so crippling that it prevented these individuals from mastering even the simplest of tasks, instead leaning upon the crutch of other, more knowledgeable relations.

This study draws out a number of issues related to IT service, especially the rise of 24/7 mobile device support and its bar-raising impact on the whole of IT. One is reminded of the old adage, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for life.” But then again, eating a fish is significantly easier than catching one, and some things are better demonstrated than explained over the phone or an IM chat room… and also, most people don’t really want to know how to fish. They just want to know how to use the proverbial knife so they can cut a piece and go back to the business of eating (to stretch the analogy).

“Run along now, little Timmy.”

To be clear, most users don’t need to know about the infrastructure underlying multiplatform databases, cloud infrastructures, and the like. It’s good that IT has everything under control. The problem is that, in an effort to take care of things that IT people care about (the quality of support tools and networks), the end-user gets rushed along with quick fixes and a pat on the back without ever learning anything. In the long run, this can be good for neither IT nor the people they support.

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