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The people who are in charge of my workplace don't really understand what computers are capable of, mistrust them, and generally have a great deal of difficulty using technology. This is a problem because our work now requires us to handle huge databases, and data storage and management is one of our major problems as a firm.

As a result of their confusion, they tend to make uninformed decisions that lead to major headaches for everyone, or they simply fail to use the system effectively. They aren't particularly receptive to the idea of training, as they're very busy, and informal explanations of how our systems work don't seem to stick.

Are there some tips on imparting technological basics to your superiors in an inoffensive (but hopefully effective) way?

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I'm going to take one point out of your question and address that:

This is a problem because our work now requires us to handle huge databases, and data storage and management is one of our major problems as a firm.

What you need to do to fix this problem and others like it is to learn to communicate in business speak not technical speak to your bosses. They are making bad decisions because they don't have the right info or understand the information they have. But they do understand cost-benefit analysis and financial talk.

So first, pick a db issue that needs to be solved. Then come up with several factors that need to be used to evaluate the solution. They should include things like initial cost, maintenance cost, security, time to install (or get the project complete), customer satisfaction, etc. Some should be easily quantified and others can and should be more subjective. Next (and this is the sneaky part), get the managers to order those factors in importance with an actual number from 1-5. Now you take that and you create a matrix with several possibilities including the one you are pushing for. Rate each possibility from 1-5 for each factor. Multiply each rating by the importance factor and add up the values for each possibility. If you have done this correctly, the best solution will appear by having the highest score and likely it will be yours. Managers love this because it allows them to point to something "Objective" to say they made the right decision. You will love it because you can use it to show your solution is better according to the very things they have agreed are of the most importance. And you don't have to explain why fgh is better than ghi technically because you have explained why in business terms.

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    +1 - Behind every technical challenge is a business driver. Understand those and converse intelligently about them and you can often find ways to make the technical issues go away (either an alternate way of handling the business driver, or support to build the technical infrastructure necessary to support the business) – voretaq7 Apr 12 '12 at 19:12
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Training would be the best option, but failing that, is it possible to set up some sort of "Tech tip of the week" email, where once a week you email out a well-written tip/tutorial for some of the specific systems you are using? You'd have to make sure the tips are relevant, positive, and emphasize the benefits of following them. I know here they did that when they migrated to Outlook, way back whenever that was, and even I learnt some neat tricks I'd never heard of before.

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    I really like the tech tip idea, and am going to try it out. Thanks! – RSid Apr 12 '12 at 14:43
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    We have tech tip of the week. It usually gets ignored. – jdb1a1 Jul 3 '12 at 17:50
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I have sat in this seat several times.

As a result of their confusion, they tend to make uninformed decisions that lead to major headaches for everyone, or they simply fail to use the system effectively.

The problem here is pretty straightforward:

they tend to make uninformed decisions

Firstly, I'm going to assume this is the case. You have to handle this very carefully - assuming someone is incompetent when they're just busy will not endear you to them in any way.

So, let's assume they're uninformed - the problem simply stated is that they need to be informed. That means somehow inserting yourself into the decision making process they undergo and listening to what they want to achieve.

Then, and this is crucial - lay out all the options, presenting as simply as possible any technical concepts that you need them to know and answering any questions, then let them decide. They'll still have made the decision - they're still in charge - but you've armed them with the information they need to make the right decision.

At this stage, I should say what we're trying to do is guide them, however, one thing I've taken out of doing this almost all of my working life is that sometimes when presented the options, the manager picks one for business reasons such as speed, cost etc. As IT people, particularly programmers, we tend to be set in our ways in terms of "technologically best", whereas the manager may see things business/strategic viewpoint. Don't begrudge them this; it's the reason we're still employed, after all.

Now - how to insert yourself into the decision process? Well:

... as they're very busy

Bingo. Offer to save them time. Find an example of a technical solution you think isn't the best one and contrast it with one that works, explaining how that'll save time or money (or both) all around. Then, and this is tricky - either try to offer to look at decisions, or if the manager will not let go, you can try to involve yourself in the discussion until your frequency of attendance ends up including you by default.

As I say, the important aspect here, tempting as it is, is not to presume, and make the decisions. Interpret the requirements and present the options. Think "technical liaison". Also be aware sometimes, in some company cultures, the idea of receiving advice from junior staff doesn't really exist and you may not be able to affect the influence you need to.

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I think it could be as easy as poking your head into their office, asking them to come by your desk so you can clarify something, and then demonstrating what you want them to know, and finish up by asking if that's the proper/most efficient way of carrying out said task. Tell them that you feel there might be a better way, but are not sure, and was certain they'd be able to answer it. Part of being a good teacher is NOT being able toteach, it's being able to keep people from realizing they're being taught.

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It's hard to judge this without knowing how much they know on IT and what the line of command is.

If there's a CTO type of person on the board - or at least someone who has the ear of the boss - then that man/woman is the interface between the management and the technology. He/she has the responsibility to translate the jargon into something understandable to them, get them to see the business case for different IT systems and their help in managing the transition.

But I get the impression that this company has a lot of other problems.

And, if I were you, I'd start looking around for another job.

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