When I worked at a previous company, the standard naming convention for usernames was the user's first initial, middle initial and the first four letters of the last name. My username, for example, was "nrnick@ . . . "
We hired a new marketing director by the name of Brad K. Buttars. His second day on the job, Brad asked if we could make an exception with his username. He was ordering business cards and realized that the username "bkbutt" might not be the ideal moniker. "Niel," he told me, "until I saw it written on the business card order form, I didn't realize what my username looked like. But I don't want to be 'bkbutt.'" I told him I understood and would take care of it.
I called Ryan, my directory administrator, and explained the situation.
"Ryan, will you please change Brad Buttars' username to 'bradb'?"
"I can't do that," Ryan responded.
"Why not?" I queried.
"It violates our standard," he explained.
"I understand that it does, but in this case we need to make an exception," I countered.
"But if we make an exception in this case, I will get flooded with requests for exceptions," he contended.
"Ryan, are there that many people that ask for an exception?" I wondered.
"Well, no. But if they know they can get one, I am sure they will ask for one," he reasoned.
"Ryan, I will support you in rejecting other requests, but it seems to me that helping Brad avoid the username 'bkbutt' is worth an exception," I said.
"I still won't do it," he declared.
"You what?" I countered.
"You are asking me to violate our standard, and I just won't do it," he said.
"Ryan," I explained, "I hate to pull rank on you, but I want you to set aside the standard in this one case."
"I think I should report you for asking me to violate the standard," he said.
"Report me to whom?" I asked. "The standards police?"
"My boss," he said.
"Ryan," I said with exasperation, "do I need to remind you that I am the boss of your boss? I think I am on pretty solid ground when I tell you that you have two choices: Either change Brad's username to 'bradb,' or stop being the directory admin."
Ryan succumbed to my threats and granted the exception. He groused about it for a few months but eventually calmed down -- helped perhaps when the flood of additional requests for username exceptions didn't materialize. I remember Ryan when I encounter IT inflexibility. We IT types sometimes hide behind standards to avoid meeting customer needs. I don't propose that we abandon standards and embrace chaos but that we use standards to improve, not discourage, service levels. Harvard University professor Lawrence Katz has found that the global economy rewards adaptable individuals. An employee who excels at fast-changing tasks is much more valuable than an employee who excels at managing routine ones.
In our rapidly changing, customer service-centric environments, we need IT capabilities of adaptability and innovation. If we hold fast to dogma and standards that limit our adaptability and innovation, we limit our value.
Niel Nickolaisen is CIO and vice president of strategic planning at Headwaters Inc. in South Jordan, Utah. Write to him at email@example.com.
This was first published in November 2006