Keeping IT under control…

Have a nice day…

About a decade ago I made a decision that changed my working life. No, I didn’t choose the Macintosh; that decision came almost a decade earlier, and has been a choice that has richly coloured my life ever since.

No, the decision that changed my life for a second time was to move away from the more traditional feeding grounds of the Mac, such a advertising agencies, printers & imagesetting bureaux, and towards areas where the Mac was making inroads into larger, Wintel-based companies.

After the slow-down that hit the UK advertising industry in the mid-nineties, I decided that I couldn’t base my career around such a unpredictable & volatile industry, where losing one client could mean the company cutting it’s wage bill in half.

I took a job working for an ‘in-house’ studio, as part of a larger PC-based organisation, and in the following years I have worked for several companies, but all of them have followed this ethos. By and large, this working environment is much more agreeable, and has allowed me to relax and plan a future for myself and my family.

I say agreeable, but there has been one aspect of this arrangement that has proved irksome – IT departments.

I have many a horror story to tell of my dealings with stubborn Windows Managers, too many to go into here, but I must make a clear distinction of who I am talking about. By Windows Managers I am talking about people in a business setting who have had no contact with the Macintosh or Mac-people whatsoever, and whose only reference to Macintosh are the odd sarcastic article in PC magazines. I in no way refer to the countless numbers of Macintosh IT Managers who in my experience do an excellent job of managing Macintosh & Windows based networks.

I always gave Windows Managers the benefit of the doubt, thinking that the Mac-hating attitude that they’d so often dish out was simply an isolated incident, and didn’t reflect the wider opinion of IT professionals and Network Managers. However, having looked back over 3 or 4 separate companies of which I have worked for, and the opinions and attitudes of the IT staff therein, I’m beginning to see a pattern.

When a particular company first decides that it makes business-sense to bring their design & repro in-house, they are at a loss as how to approach it. What tends to happen is they bypass the usual avenues for buying IT equipment, i.e. they don’t approach their IT department. They ask their current provider for advice, be it a design house, printer or consultant. They will recommend the industry-standard – the Apple Macintosh. Then recruitment begins, and it’s usually these recruits that set the whole studio up. As you know, the Mac’s so straightforward, this is just a matter of a couple of days.

Then the problems start. Usually you need some information from IT, in order for the Mac to integrate into the PC-network. IP addresses, SMB printer file-paths, email, internet, proxy settings, the list goes on and on, and it’s here where I usually hit a brick wall, (with a Windows logo on it).

What follows are endless arguments, one-sided discussions and vitriol on their opinion of the Macintosh, which I try my best to avoid getting involved in. This exact scenario has happened on more than one occasion, and it begs me to ask the question, ‘why?’, and I think I have an answer.

The reasons for this are quite simple, and in the UK at least (which has to be the anti-Mac world-capital) it seems to be hard-wired into these people. They have spent their entire working lives keeping Windows stable and operational. They know nothing else. Most don’t even know that the Macintosh exists, and of those that do, they would never contemplate recommending them, and thought that in their working lives at least, they’d never have to go near one.

IT underpins businesses of all kinds; the bigger the business, the more powerful they become. Company Directors become slaves to their IT departments, and they slowly begin to lose control of the company that they run. All business decisions at some point must be run through IT, if IT thinks it’s a bad idea then it won’t happen.

Slowly but surely, this power starts to go to their heads. When Windows decides that it’s not going to work, whole companies grind to a halt. Then a multitude of IT staff crawl out of the woodwork like ants, swarming over each computer, re-setting it all up, while the company is paralysed, losing money every second. On asking what has gone wrong, or how long will it take until things start working again, you at worst get a mumbled grunt, or at best get a cacophony of gibberish of what has happened. They feel powerful, wanted and they are in control. How many times has this occurred in your company?

Occasionally, amongst all of this chaos sits a lone Macintosh studio. A simple set-up, just four or five Mac’s, monitors (colour managed), fast colour laser printer, slower colour accurate proofer, scanners, tape-back up and maybe a small server, with a smattering of external hard drives & digital cameras. It works, all the time. No down-time, no glitches, no errors (at least none that cost money). When the Windows server goes down, the Mac-studio continues without a hiccup. You even get other people in the office coming to you to print their Word, Excel or Powerpoint files for them, because the Windows network isn’t working or their printer keeps eating their jobs. To make matters worse for IT, Mac staff (horror of horrors!) also know how to install applications, they know how to troubleshoot printing problems, manage their fonts and their systems, and what’s worse; they are allowed to!

IT staff feel impotent, unwanted and not in control in Mac-situations. They just don’t ‘get’ the Mac, and why should they? If they did they’d realise they’d be out of work. Had they
been involved at the out-set, Mac’s wouldn’t have been allowed in the company. A standard Wintel-box would be recommended, just like the accounts department. They might not understand reprographics, but they do know what’s best for the company that they control. They make the fatal mistake of assuming because they know computers in a business setting, this somehow gives them an insight into computing for specialised industries. They don’t like the idea that somebody in the company knows more about computers than they do, or has a more powerful computer than the Windows Manager – this gives them cold sweats in the middle of the night.

‘Colour-management’, they’d say ‘what do you need that for?’

‘Back-up?’ they’d retort, ‘you don’t have to worry about it.’ (Until you need a file that you’ve accidentally deleted, and you have to wait days to get it back because they’re too busy).

‘Colour-proofing? Use the companies colour-laser like the other 400 staff have to.’

‘Server? What do you need that for? use this soulless Wintel box like everyone else.’
I once even had a Windows Manager state that the studio shouldn’t be allowed to accept files from outside the company, in case they contained a virus! Having then pointed out that this was the way the department made money, by printing clients files, he quickly relented.

It all boils down to one word, ‘CONTROL’. They control the company, anything that jeopardises this cannot be allowed to happen. The Macintosh suddenly introduces a variable in the company they have no jurisdiction over.

All of this may sound extreme, and I expect a lot of you, even Mac users, & especially in the US, will say that this diatribe is a load of biased rubbish. But things are very different here in the UK. Getting an Apple Mac into a company that isn’t graphics oriented is near impossible. Anti-Mac bias is all around you, on the TV, (the BBC is the worst), newspapers, (IT specials regularly trash the Mac), in computer stores, (PC-World staff have to be seen to be believed), banks, (try online-banking and you’ll be amazed at how you’re treated as a paying customer), and even the government, (try to fill out on-line tax forms).

If Apple want to succeed in the UK, they need to approach things very differently here. My experience is to bypass IT completely, you haven’t a hope in selling to them. Concentrate on the real people who run the company, the Directors. In my experience they just want the best solution to the problem, and in the area of reprographics that will always be the Macintosh.


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