Accountability? Check. Authority? Not so much.

When senior management ignores office computing best practices, what's an IT manager to do?

I am the IT Manager for a midsize manufacturing company in a location where IT jobs are rare. As IT Manager, I am ultimately responsible for every electronic device that this company owns, including computers, fax machines, VoIP system, printers, alarm system, etc.

My biggest frustration with my position is the fact that I have complete accountability for the company's network infrastructure and its data, but no authority over any of these. I am an IT Manager in title only. Instead, I should change it to "IT Fixer Guy" or "IT Repairman."

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The employees treat their work computers as their own personal computers. For instance, they download anything from the Internet, stream music from 8-5, burn illegal copies of music, and bring personal computer items from home without my knowledge and attach them to the network. If any of these cause problems, I am expected to jump up immediately and fix it. If I say anything against such practices, then I am being unreasonable. "What's the big deal?" is the line I've heard time and time again.

What to do? I've tried educating employees on why these practices are a problem, but to no avail. It's tough to change employee behavior if senior managers -- "The Suits" -- doesn't see an issue.

I've tried educating The Suits about in-office computer best practices, only to find myself talking to a wall. Several times, certain employees (repeat offenders) have gone to The Suits to complain about my "rules." It's been a waste of time trying to explain to the CEO, COO, VPO why 50MB e-mail attachments cc'd to a dozen individuals are choking our spam filter or why Employee X's computer can't bring up our home page because this guy downloaded a Seinfeld screensaver that corrupted his Adobe Flash. The Suits have a look of puzzlement on their faces and just dismiss me.

So I've changed my approach to something that The Suits could relate to: Time and money. I've created written reports showing how employee downtime is ultimately costing the company money. I've always included the reasons for this downtime such as downloading freebies from the Internet, or trying to e-mail a 200MB attachment (yes, this actually has happened multiple times over the years) and how these practices can wreak havoc on employee computers. I've even estimated the potential cost savings to the company by restricting certain unsanctioned activities. No luck.

With the economy the way that it is and most businesses trying to do anything and everything to save a dollar, you would think that my concerns would be taken more seriously by The Suits, but they're not. The reason is simple: It's just that they don't care about anything that doesn't generate direct money for the company. They only seem to care when their money-making employees (Sales and Engineers) are frustrated or can't get a quote out the door quickly enough. The Suits are afraid to say anything because they're afraid that the Sales staff or Engineers will get upset and quit. (Yes, I was actually told this once.)

Naturally, this leaves me in an awkward position. I have recommended simple policies such as no streaming music and non-work related videos during business hours, no unsanctioned Internet downloads without at least making me aware, etc. No dice. If an employee wants to e-mail a 50MB attachment to an external contact, I am told to up the attachment limit on the Exchange server. When I've tried to explain to The Suits about how most companies limit attachment sizes to 5MB to 10MB, they don't want to hear it. Like all too many senior managers, The Suits see restrictions like these as an impediment to business.

When the e-mails bounce back due to size restrictions, The Suits want to know why. When I, once again, try to explain to them why I have no control over the external contact's e-mail attachment size restrictions, they nod their heads like they understand, but they don't. These same people will call me the following day with the same issue with the same external contact.

Now here I am four years later, and I have finally realized that I have no control over other employees' attitudes, only my own. Instead of getting upset over situations like this, I now only shake my head and smile. Besides, constant employee downtime due to computer issues is job security for me. Got to go, my phone is ringing.

Does this reader's story remind you of an experience of your own? Submit your IT war story to InfoWorld's Off the Record. If we publish your story, we'll send you a $50 American Express gift card for your troubles.

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