Make the IT Team Your Friend, So You Can Play with All the Fun Toys

Posted on December 3, 2020

mark miller

This article is by ELGL member Mark R. Miller with the deBeaumont Foundation.

It pained me to read this post a few days ago on ELGL’s Facebook page:

debeaumont foundation
See that angry face? One of those was me. Reading the comments on this post, I learned about some security issues with Canva that I hadn’t been aware of – but as the original poster pointed out, it seems to be more of a phishing issue than a security threat with the application itself.

But regardless of the details, this brought back frustrating memories of some experiences I’ve had at previous jobs – and reminded me of the ways my teams and I were able to overcome them.

I have to start by telling you that I’m old. Well, in my 50s, but older than most of the cool kids in ELGL. So I remember a time when email was a new thing. And when, in the 1990s, my communications department at a federal agency shared a single AOL dial-up account that we had to take turns using. My real education in digital technology came when I joined the Case Foundation, the charitable organization of AOL founder Steve Case and his wife, Jean. As their first vice president for communications, I loved being immersed in interactive technology and its promise to bring about positive social change.

I took that enthusiasm to my next job, where I led fundraising communications for a 6,000-person children’s health system. The year was 2007, and Facebook was just starting to allow organizations to create business pages. I specifically remember sending an email to the executives who led the health system’s legal, communications, and fundraising teams to ask if I could start a Facebook page for the organization. Not really knowing what that meant, they didn’t object. Soon after that, we joined Twitter and quickly became the one of the most popular children’s hospitals there. In 2012, we won an award for the best use of social media in healthcare.

But as an institution, we had obstacles. I made it my mission to open social media up for 6,000 employees — as well as patients, families, and visitors — even though the idea faced resistance from a cautious IT department and risk-averse legal team. This goal became more challenging when one day, the fundraising and communications teams suddenly lost access to all social media channels, even though maintaining them was part of our job. We couldn’t access Dropbox…or Gmail…or any external email or file-sharing sites. Our panic quickly turned to rage toward the IT team that had decided to block all of these sites without talking to anyone first. Fortunately, we were able to have the restrictions lifted and proposed to IT that we work together to find a solution that would allow us to do our jobs while preserving security.

That began a discussion that led to the health system fully opening access to social media to all employees and the full use of the file-sharing and interactive tools we needed to do our jobs well.

Here are the lessons I learned that may help you:

  1. Don’t see your IT team as the enemy. They’re trying to do their job, and you’re trying to do yours. We met with the IT leaders in person (very important) and educated them about the tools we used and why, and we took the time to understand the pressures they were under to protect the organization. Before long, we were able to convince them that no one would be able to access patient data through our Facebook page (which was an actual concern of theirs) and that we could take steps to keep the health system’s data safe.
  2. Explain the benefit to the organization. I’m sure the ELGL member who posted about Canva doesn’t use Canva because it’s fun — it’s an efficient tool that helps her to do the job she’s expected to do. For my team, we had the advantage that our department raised money for the health system. We conveyed that using these tools allowed us to raise more money and work with partners more efficiently.
  3. Create policies and revisit them regularly. We formed a committee that included compliance, legal, human resources, IT, communications, fundraising, and patient services to create policies that addressed people’s concerns and allowed us to do our jobs well. And before we opened social media for everyone, we made sure employees understood the policies and accepted the responsibility that came with them.
  4.  Use analogies to help people understand the tools you need. When we were first confronted with a “shut-it-down” attitude, we wanted to tell IT that they and their policies were stupid. Instead, we took the time to explain that file-sharing sites and social media were fundamental tools we used every day for internal and external communications – like the phone and email. We all agreed that email was one of the organization’s biggest security threats, but no one would have argued that we should stop using email. We made the case that the organization is able to take steps to make the use of email as safe as possible, and we offered to work with them to create guidelines and systems.
  5. Counter opposing views calmly, but directly. One of the main concerns our leadership had about social media was that employees would waste time. We pointed out that there’s lot of ways to waste time – were they going to crack down on personal phone calls or Internet use? And how would they prevent employees from accessing social media on their own phones? We were successful in arguing that if people weren’t doing their jobs, that was a performance issue that should be dealt with, not a technology issue.
  6. Do your homework – and talk to professional colleagues. The ELGL Facebook page is a great place to ask questions about how others have tackled the challenges you face every day. We collected information from organizations we knew our executives would respect – for example, if the Mayo Clinic could find a way to safely use technology, shouldn’t we be able to? We used real examples of how our peers were able to be more open – and the positive way these policies were received by employees. Find out what’s happening outside your own agency.

Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I’d argue that the arc of technological progress is also long, but it bends toward openness and acceptance. So keep fighting the good fight and advocate for the technology that will help you do your job with creativity and innovation. Not only will it make your job easier, but it will help your organization serve your community more effectively and efficiently.

Mark R. Miller is the vice president of communications for the de Beaumont Foundation, which supports state and local public health to create communities where everyone can achieve their best possible health. His political and nonprofit career has included senior-level jobs at the White House, the Corporation for National Service, the National Governors Association, Children’s National Medical Center, and the Case Foundation. 

Close window