Duty for Reporting: Is IT a Servant or a Steward

There’s an interesting “Ask Slashdot” thread from Slashdot user “MrWHO,” an IT guy who wonders why his clients preferred to receive PDF reports delivered via e-mail instead of signing into the dashboard. After all, dashboards are useful for up-to-the-minute, at-a-glance information (if they’re designed well), and they can also be used to sift through historical data. A report becomes obsolete soon after it is created (though it is far easier to show a PDF-based report to a person who does not have access to the dashboard), so it’s fair to ask why some business people prefer it.

The strange thing that I found was that many, many people were telling MrWHO, essentially, to shut up and stop complaining about the state of affairs. That IT is supposed to serve the clients and if they want reports, they get reports.

And I get that IT’s job is to support the business – or the client – but here’s my question: Does IT serve the business, or is it a steward of the business?

This is getting into some splitting of linguistic hairs, but there is a difference. A servant doesn’t exercise judgment. He or she does what is asked, whatever the request is. But a steward is someone who exercises both service and judgment. (The term comes from officials who are appointed by the legal ruling authority – usually a monarch – to represent them in a country, and has a mandate to govern in their name. An archaic term, but one that applies.) 

Later in the thread, I found one comment from user Kurisuto particularly insightful: 

“The reason might be one of these two:

    1. Management knows what they’re talking about: there’s some valid business reason why the information needs to be in the requested form; and the tech guy just isn’t aware of that reason. 
    2. Management thinks they know what they want, but their request reflects an incomplete understanding as to what technical solutions are possible, and which one would really best serve the business.” 

And while I can see both of these as applying, it seems to me that scenario one presents a huge problem. IT exists to support the business, but if IT doesn’t know what the business needs, or why, how can it effectively find ways to improve the business? Too often, we see an IT department tasked only with “keeping the servers running” without being asked what IT can do to support the goals of the business. In turn, IT has a responsibility to ask the business what its needs and goals are.

Scenario two, however, is similar; but in this case, the non-technical team doesn’t have a complete understanding of how IT can serve the business goals. Again, two-way communication here is crucial. 

Now, I’m pretty sure that MrWHO could easily solve his problem with some cron jobs and html2pdf to turn those dashboards into reports, but that ignores the broader – and more important – question of why MrWHO is asking the question in the first place. In addition, he should be directing it towards his clients rather than just the Slashdot community. 

IT is a part of the business, just like sales, marketing, accounting, or management, and just as you wouldn’t neglect to tell your sales and marketing teams what your business goals are, it is crucial to keep IT involved. IT teams also need to take initiative and ensure that they are supporting business goals, not spending 80 percent of their time just keeping the lights on. 

(Oh, and, just to let you know, Route Explorer has both dashboards and reporting. So we’ve got you covered.)