Martin Atherton, originally published on The Register
It would be odd to hear from an IT pro who didn’t have ‘demanding users’, regardless of which decade of business computing we care to examine. However, the nature of the demands and the expectations of today’s users are changing.
We could cite popular culture, consumer behaviour, freely available services and the ‘disposable’ attitude to the things we buy as all contributing to heightened demand for instant gratification.
We could also blame the increasingly high performance home and mobile devices, easily accessible to the average punter on the street, that could put our work-supplied kit to shame.
Roles and user profiles are not static entities either. As expectations rise and rise, the way in which IT services are accessed and consumed are also changing. The ‘user’ is a different beast than a decade, or even five years ago.
But so what? Does all this equate to a need to think about ‘delivering IT’ any differently than we have done in the past? To crystallise this further: if we only consider the user in the equation, does this change the way we might think about IT?
If we place the user at the centre of the big picture for a moment, the constant focus on cost reduction over the last few years may have relegated the user to something of an afterthought. The priority has been ‘reduce costs at all costs and try to keep the impact on the user to a minimum’. Meanwhile, as already pointed out, user expectations have been going in the opposite direction.
The problem with placing the user at the centre of the picture is that you can quickly end up with a number of difficult-to-quantify elements as being central to success.
Many have tried to nail the ‘efficiency + effectiveness = productivity’ calculation to allow organisations to think about IT investment from the user’s point of view. It’s an equation that still hasn’t been worked out, so we end up back in the realm of cost justification, because implementing something and then measuring the real life benefits is seen as too risky.
However, like it or not, the customer is king. Delivering what they need is what IT was set up to do. If people are unproductive ‘because of IT’, then rest assured IT will be given less, not more resources to fix things. Think of IT as an athlete in training for the 2012 games supported by a grant from the national athletics body. Performances must keep improving in order to maintain the investment. The athlete may not be in direct control of injuries and other practicalities which may stand in the way of progress, but it’s the way things are.
Often, getting IT right is about stopping doing the stupid things as opposed to finding lots of ‘right’ things to do. Chances are many of those are already in place but obscured by people’s frustration with having to re-key information from one system to another, fiddling with multiple passwords or being unable to get IT to remotely support their errant laptop through the corporate firewall. The thing is that IT often doesn’t get to find out about the impact of this stuff unless it bothers to find out directly.
‘Getting out there’ may help with broader issues, such as communicating to the users just what is feasible and explaining the cost implications of delivering different service or support options. An opportunity to do some ‘IT marketing’ instead of just waiting to take the flack when things go wrong may be upon us. Sure, this might not be your job directly, but depending on the scale of your IT department, there may be service managers, IT architects or analysts already tasked with periodically revisiting things from ‘the user angle’, or waiting to be asked to.
Ultimately, it’s the CIO’s or IT director’s job to find the right balance between what works operationally and what works from the user’s point of view. It’s easy to get bogged down and adopt an inwards facing mentality, especially when conditions are tough. On that note then, since the big focus on cost and efficiency, do you know when ‘someone’ last went out and spoke to the users?