The Billy Haters

Billy expects the world and leaves nothing for IT except contempt. His voice volume averages 105 decibels when he’s “talking” on the phone with IT, and he probably doesn’t have a mother who taught him any manners.

Yesterday I was reading through the “Tales from Tech Support” subreddit and was floored by the things I was reading about. From the most unpleasant help desk calls to the frustratingly low amount of resources that IT was given, I walked away from that learning experience with a brand new perspective on the challenges that IT faces day in and day out. One challenge seemed to rise to the top over and over again and has proven to be true in a multitude of customer visits that we’ve made: It was the challenge of dealing with Billy.

Billy has many different faces depending on where you work, but the personality behind the face is always the same. He’s pompous and arrogant, knows little and cares even less about what IT does, and every time his name is mentioned your teeth clench together and your eyes dilate slightly. He expects the world and leaves nothing for IT except contempt. His voice volume averages 105 decibels when he’s “talking” on the phone with IT, and he probably doesn’t have a mother who taught him any manners. (This article is meant in no way to reflect poorly on the name Billy or any derivative, it was just the first name that was rattled off when I asked my coworkers for a random name).

In interviewing customers and reading through forums, Billy seemed to come up again and again. Some organizations had many Billys while others only had one or two. Yet Billy seemed to be taking up 90-95% of all discussion topics a lion’s share of IT’s time and energy. What jumped out to me was how stark the difference was between how IT organizations approached dealing with Billy. I learned that there were two types of organizations, (1) those who allowed Billy to affect how they did their job, and (2) those who saw Billy as an opportunity to be more effective in their job.

The Billy Haters
Many IT organizations were consumed by Billy; they threw darts at his picture in the IT break room and made memes that were circulated internally defacing Billy’s already stained reputation. Billy ruled their every thought and added unnecessary stress to their life outside of work. They would think about how depressing and emotionally taxing their job was because of Billy. In other words, Billy had accomplished exactly what he wanted to accomplish. He was the center of IT’s attention.

What is interesting about Billy Haters is that they tended to separate themselves from end users in general. They approached IT with the “us v. them” mentality. Billy Haters tended to demand more control over all users, and saw themselves as the policemen over the company. Users working with Billy Haters were treated with more disdain by IT, and they were usually less likely to ask for help from them. Users were also less likely to follow IT policies and IT was less aware of user activity. Billy Haters were being circumvented by the good users, and being inundated by the Billys.

The Billy Opportunists
The second group of IT organizations saw Billy as an opportunity. These organizations thought of Billy as a customer who was keeping IT in business. While still bothered by Billy, they treated him with respect and never reacted to his rants. Billy never got under their skin, and he rarely entered the minds of IT outside of his requests for help. Sometimes Billy would pass by in the hall and IT would smile and say hello. Billy was an opportunity to stretch the limits of IT.

The Billy Opportunists had a very strategic role inside of the organization. They were very often contributing to top line revenue growth by improving company production. Billy Opportunists worked  collaboratively with users to define security policies and management practices that met corporate requirements while still helping the company be productive. Users embraced IT as a source of knowledge and expertise, and Billys left IT alone.

While not every organization fits perfectly into one of these two camps of customers, I’ve found that it’s a good way to think about IT. More importantly, by illustrating these two types of organizations, it becomes quite clear who the superior organization is. Billy Opportunists understand the meaning of user-oriented IT. In fact, they are the ones who invented user-oriented IT. Billy Opportunists see end users in a different way than Billy Haters, and by treating them like a customer, they effectively became an integral part of the business. The business saw the Billy Opportunists as a money maker, and the Billy Haters as a black hole of cost.

Have a good story about Billy in your organization? Thoughts around Billy Haters and Billy Opportunists? I’d love to hear your comments.