SME Priorities for 2021: Bridging the Gap Between Decision Makers & IT Admins

Written by Kelsey Kinzer on July 20, 2021

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The act of collaboration must start with dialogue. You cannot build relationships without having an understanding of your potential partners, and you cannot achieve that understanding without a special form of communication that goes beyond ordinary conversation.

Daniel Yankelovich, renowned social scientist and author of The Magic of Dialogue

In the high-pressure environment of today’s business world, discussions, directives, and casual conversations are no longer sufficient to bring people and their unique agendas together. The hybrid workplace is here to stay, and with it comes the need to be highly intentional about communication. When practiced properly, dialogue has the power to align people with a shared vision, and help both individuals and teams realize their full potential. 

So what is a dialogue exactly? In his book The Magic of Dialogue, author Daniel Yankelovich explains that the purpose of true dialogue is to reach mutual understanding and co-create shared meaning among participants. To expand past discussion and into dialogue, participants must: 

  1. Treat each other as equals
  2. Listen with empathy, without judgement
  3. Bring assumptions into the open

Yes, the first dialogue characteristic of equality can be challenging in a business setting when there are clear differences in job title, such as Owner, C-Level, Director, or Manager. But for there to be any sort of honest conversation among these groups, the differences in knowledge and priorities must be acknowledged. Only then can decision makers and IT admins bridge the understanding gap and move IT strategy forward in a truly collaborative fashion.

The purpose of this article is to carry the spirit of dialogue forward by examining some of the job title disparities we noticed in our recent survey of 400 IT professionals serving small to mid-size enterprises. The results show some key differences between decision makers (Owners, C-level) and IT admins (Managers, Directors). To improve communication between these two groups, we must acknowledge these differences and bring them out into the open.

For instance, 79.3 percent of decision makers agree or strongly agree that they are happier in their jobs than they were a year ago, while only 55.6 percent of IT admins feel this way. Since levels of job satisfaction have a profound effect on productivity and quality of work, it’s in the best interest of both parties to initiate a dialogue around this information and collaborate on a potential solution for increasing IT admin happiness at work.

May the rest of the information presented in this article act as a helpful starting point for your own workplace dialogue.

Key Differences Between Decision Makers & IT Admins

1. Knowledge of Trends

Due to the differences in day-to-day activities of decision makers and IT admins, differences in knowledge are to be expected as well. As an example, almost one-third (28.3 percent) of decision makers do not know what Zero Trust security is. 

Owners in particular contribute to this statistic, as 43.8 percent of those surveyed are unfamiliar with Zero Trust. Since owners often have less of a technical focus in IT and are primarily focused on overarching business success, they’re more likely to hear about trends in big-picture terms such as cybersecurity. They are interested in making those ideas work at a high level.

At 21.6 percent, C-level executives are more similar to IT admins in their knowledge of the Zero Trust security trend; only 19.4 percent of Managers and Directors do not know what Zero Trust is. The alignment between C-level and IT admins on this trend makes sense, as CISOs and CIOs deal directly with organizational security in their day-to-day.

2. Focus on Cost

This likely comes as no surprise, but throughout the survey, decision makers tended to be more focused on cost than IT admins. In one question, participants were asked to select how they feel about the following statement: “I feel like my organization is spending too much to secure/enable remote work.” Just over half (54.9 percent) of IT admins agree with this statement, while more than two-thirds (71.7 percent) of decision makers do. 

This is an interesting split to point out because nearly two-thirds (66.3 percent) of the IT professionals surveyed feel overwhelmed by trying to manage remote work, job title notwithstanding. So although managing remote work is a shared stressor, decision makers and IT admins are dealing with unique points of friction in their daily experiences and approaching the problem from different perspectives. 

Again, we see that IT professionals higher up in the company hierarchy tend to focus more on the success of the business as a whole, of which costs are a major factor. IT admins, on the other hand, have a more detailed understanding of what’s actually required to secure and enable remote work. Both perspectives must come together in dialogue to find the optimal solution for the organization.

3. Level of Concern

The overall level of concern expressed by survey participants also differed between decision makers and IT admins. For example, 47.2 percent of decision makers strongly agree that remote work makes it harder for employees to follow good security practices. While most IT admins agree, only 21.3 percent of them feel as strongly as Owners and C-level executives do. 

Increased security concern from higher-ups can be attributed to similar drivers as the differences in knowledge of trends and focus on cost. Data breaches are high-profile and regularly in the news cycle, plus they come with severe costs to the business. Additionally, without an intricate understanding of areas like security, decision makers may experience increased concern as they ask themselves, “are we doing enough?”

Perhaps this also explains why Owners in particular seem to have more concerns than survey participants with other job titles. When asked about the biggest challenges for IT since the start of the pandemic, Owners expressed higher levels of worry than any other group around device management, increased work burden, and the cost of solutions required for remote work.

How to Bridge the Gap: Find Common Ground

Mutual understanding comes from not only acknowledging differences, but also seeking common ground. Fortunately, in addition to the differences JumpCloud’s survey revealed, there were also a couple clear similarities across job titles. If you’re an IT admin struggling to communicate effectively with your leadership team, the following points of conversation could be a great place to start.

1. The Top IT Priority for 2021? Securing Work-From-Anywhere

What’s the one thing that all of the surveyed IT professionals agree on, regardless of job title? Adding layered security so work-from-anywhere is truly secure is a top priority for IT in 2021. Now that IT teams have weathered the rapid, pandemic-induced shift to remote work, they can begin to think more strategically about the best way to secure IT resources everywhere they exist, from anywhere.

Whether your organization is remaining remote-first, returning to the office, or some combination of both, implementing effective layered security is a complex challenge to address. The security of networks, applications, devices, files, user identities, and other resources all needs to be taken into account. You’ll also need to consider existing IT stacks, the quantity and cost of tools required, and both the administrative and end user experience.

Neither decision makers nor IT admins will make the best choice for the organization if they remain in their operational silos. While decision makers may have a better understanding of the business as a whole, IT admins likely have a better understanding of the actual IT environment. Dialogue is essential. Complex problems require comprehensive solutions, and those solutions can only be found by bringing together diverse perspectives in pursuit of a common goal.

2. The Top Three Influences on IT Purchasing Decisions

Another interesting commonality across decision makers and IT admins alike is the information used to make decisions about the purchase and usage of IT solutions. Both groups marked the following three factors as the most influential in the decision making process:

  • Offers ease of use compared to existing solution
  • Consolidates functions/tooling solutions
  • Recommendation from other IT admins

Although the difference in job title may affect the types of solutions being considered or opinions about the direction to take with IT strategy, the above influencing factors can be used as shared criteria for evaluating solutions. By finding common ground in this way (or another) and respectfully acknowledging points of disagreement, decision makers and IT admins can more effectively communicate and work together in pursuit of a shared vision.

To better understand the role, the challenges, and the dynamics of IT professionals who serve SMEs, check out the full survey report: The Role of IT Managers in Post-Pandemic Recovery

Kelsey Kinzer

Kelsey is a passionate storyteller and Content Writer at JumpCloud. She is particularly inspired by the people who drive innovation in B2B tech. When away from her screen, you can find her climbing mountains and (unsuccessfully) trying to quit cold brew coffee.

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