Running the AEC IT function

There is an interesting article in the latest AECbytes in which Linda Letourneau, director of technology at US-based planning and design practice LandDesign, describes how she achieved a turnaround in user satisfaction in her firm after implementing better technologies and changing the focus of its IT group.

Her starting point was to recognise that the ICT department is a support department. Within an AEC organisation, we cannot assume that everyone will have good ICT knowledge. Linda says:

“Technology staff need not scoff at the questions of users. That attitude does not make IT look smarter, and it makes the IT staff less effective with their user community. It is critical that the people in my department have people skills to match their technology skills.”

I know that many AEC professionals can be apprehensive about dealing with their ICT support teams, sometimes regarding them as arrogant or patronising, or feeling that ICT is not helping but placing obstacles in their way. This is a big no-no, as Linda says: the next requirement is that ICT understands the firm’s processes:

“If a technology responds to a need represented by a business process, that technology will be embraced by its user community.

Here, Linda uses the example of LandDesign’s need to transfer large files securely between offices, where her team deployed Newforma Project Center (I would take slight issue with her statement that web extranets “fail to integrate with internal systems such as Outlook email” – the AEC-specific project control platform delivered on a SaaS basis by UK-based BIW Technologies [my employer; also now used on some US projects] does have an integration with Microsoft Outlook and would meet her other criteria: secure, audit trail, low IT intervention). Here, her ICT department also became proficient in using the software and in training other company users.

Update (18 December): Regarding Outlook Integration, I read that Meridian‘s Prolog Connect acts as a Web Services platform extension for Prolog Manager, allowing convergence between the Prolog project management system and Microsoft productivity applications including Outlook.

I have also just read a post on Web 2.0 adoption from Ross Mayfield at wiki company Socialtext, that is relevant here. Echoing McKinsey, he distinguishes between ICT initiatives that emanate from the IT department and those started by Line of Business (LoB) executives:

IT-driven implementations had 60% user dissatisfaction, whereas LoB-driven had 74% satisfaction.  … LoB implementations have greater engagement and adoption.  I believe the best approach is to partner LoB with IT … for the benefits of top down and bottom up adoption.

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