Self-service IT: Are users up for the task?

Empowering end-users with self-service systems is all the rage for IT these days. What could possibly go wrong?

"The best scenario is a win-win when you divide the analytics application stack into multiple components -- data foundations, integration, quality assurance, persistence, warehousing. IT still has to be responsible for those, and for security and robust disaster recovery," Evelson says. "If IT says, 'We are in full control of that' -- if they can say the data resides in one logical place that's securely integrated -- then sure, let users have a field day."

IT should also have a fully nuanced understanding of exactly which user community it's being asked to serve, says BIScorecard's Howson, who recognizes that certain types of BI tools best serve different types of users. A power user, for example, could probably handle an advanced data-analysis program like Microsoft PowerPivot, while an executive would work best with an interactive dashboard and a front-line worker might need just an interactive report that lets him tweak and re-chart certain rows and columns of data.

Matthew Ripaldi, a senior vice president at IT staffing and recruiting services firm Modis, says he's confident that today's workers are able to handle self-service analytics. He's more concerned that not every IT employee has the softer skills necessary to sufficiently define the scope of a project.

"Requirements-gathering requires good listening skills. You need someone who can say, 'What do you want this system to do? What analysis are you trying to accomplish?' and then translate that into a tech solution," Ripaldi says.

In cases where the IT staffers assigned to the project are more "black-and-white tech people," Ripaldi recommends bringing in a business analyst -- from the business side or as an outside consultant -- to ensure communication stays on track.

In the end, Forrester's Evelson finds it useful to put the self-service movement in context. Yes, self-service access to enterprise data gives users power and flexibility they haven't had before, and yes, that requires a higher level of control on IT's part, he says.

But by the same token, these new systems are part of a trend that's been building ever since computers became personal. "Business users have been using spreadsheets since the day they were invented. If you think about it, [Microsoft] Excel is still the No. 1 BI tool out there."

This story, "Self-service IT: Are users up for the task?" was originally published by Computerworld.

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