Media Perspective: Take care of your IT department and IT will take care of you

I once did a research project trying to understand the lives of IT people in medium-sized organisations.

The saddest, and most telling thing anyone said to me was: "No-one ever calls to say: 'Thanks, e-mail was up all day.'" And in those 12 words is a story of the abuse and neglect of some of the most important people in your agency: the IT department.

In most advertising agencies, the IT department is lodged somewhere between "people to blame when stuff doesn't work", "butt of all the jokes" and "necessary evil". The geek jokes abound, the heavy sighs and moans emerge the minute anything goes wrong and their good advice is routinely ignored. And it's almost always because they're employed to do one thing, then asked to do something completely different.

Most agency IT people are hired to make sure nothing goes wrong. E-mail needs to be up. Printers need to work. The billing system needs to print the invoices properly. The media needs to get booked. And that's all pretty simple stuff; it's all do-able. It means making sure all systems are stable, everything's thoroughly tested, and no-one clicks on anything stupid.

But, of course, that's not where it ends. As soon as that's all working, the agency starts demanding stuff that will undermine it. Art directors want Macs, so now there's something else to support. People are constantly trying to install new browsers and new versions of Flash. People click on the most obvious viruses every day. The managing director wants to run PowerPoint on his iPhone. And whenever you merely suggest this might be either a) impossible or b) likely to weaken the integrity of the network, you get more eye-rolling and sighs. Which is a shame, because a positive, empowered, frequently consulted IT department could be a significant strategic resource for the average communications agency.

Let's face it, you want all your people completely immersed in the applications and tools that everyone out there in the world is using. You don't want them to have to go home to look at Facebook or log on to a different machine to look at Flickr. Do stuff like that and the digital agencies won't just eat your lunch: they'll make you wash up afterwards. You want an environment where people can install stuff on their machines so they can understand it, before their client asks them to explain it.

That means reaching a different understanding with IT, making it clear that you'll accept a slightly higher level of risk in order to get your business fully soaked in the digital age. That means using them as a positive strategic asset, not another cost centre. And it means occasionally saying "thank you" for the e-mail being up all day.