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

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

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IT should also have a fully nuanced understanding of exactly which user community it's being asked to serve, says BIScorecard's Howson, who has developed a graphic showing what types of users are best served with which types of BI tools. 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 the IT staffing and recruiting services company Modis, says he's fully confident that today's workers are able to handle self-service analytics. He's more concerned that not every IT employee is equipped to handle 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 the part of IT, 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."

5 tips for successful self-service IT

How do you do self-service IT right? Tech managers and analysts interviewed by Computerworld say the goal is to empower users without overwhelming them -- or putting corporate data at any kind of risk. Their specific tips:

  • Retain tight control over corporate data. User access to that data is important but should never supplant security, privacy or compliance concerns.
  • Know who you're designing for. Users with different roles and technical skills may need different types of tools.
  • Rather than asking what data business users think they need, find out what decisions they need to make or tasks they need to accomplish.
  • Consider bringing in a business analyst during the project's planning stages to facilitate communication between business users and IT.
  • Test with a small group of users to quickly identify and address trouble spots.
  • Change management is crucial to a successful rollout of self-service tools. Line-of-business leaders -- not IT -- should explain to users how the tools will benefit them.

Tracy Mayor is a Computerworld contributing editor.

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


Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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