May 10 ’13

Who’s in Charge: IT or Business Users?

by Robin Reddick in Enterprise Tech Journal

There was a time when IT determined the computing services that business users were allowed to have and how those services would be accessed. Those days are long gone. With the advent of mobile devices and social media, the center of gravity has shifted, and users are driving IT to behave differently and deliver computing services in new ways. This phenomenon has been coined “the consumerization of IT,” and it has far-reaching effects on the IT organization, including the choices that IT makes for infrastructure and automation tools.

Consumerization of IT and Workload Automation

Where does consumerization fit in? Consumerization is more than supporting mobile devices. It’s about increasing productivity and improving service, which means focusing on people, applications and content.

Business users are much more tech savvy today and have clear expectations about their technology needs. Computers have been a part of the upcoming generation of “digital natives’” lives from an early age. Our knowledge base has changed, user expectations have changed and technology in general has changed.

Workload automation remains important to businesses, as the vast majority of business processing is still scheduled versus performed in real-time. Today, 60 to 70 percent of business processing is scheduled and runs in batches. With the advent of Big Data analytics, that percentage will most likely remain constant or even grow. As a result, there’s great value in consumerizing workload automation.

Bridging the Divide Between IT and the Business: How Workload Automation Can Help

We’ve been hearing about how IT needs to align with the business for quite some time now. It’s not just hype; the two really do need to connect. How does IT communicate and form a relationship with business users—one that allows them to join forces, creating synergy that drives the company toward greater success? Self-service applications—such as those enabling ATM transactions and online airplane reservations—are used in businesses today, but they haven’t yet been widely adopted for internal IT services.

Workload automation is a great place to start with a self-service app, as it’s about automating the everyday business processing that services business users. Take, for instance, the case of a large insurance company that implemented a workload automation self-service application for its business users. They wanted to empower the business users to perform their own ad hoc work requests, eliminating the need for help desk requests and “interrupt-driven” activities.

Yes, the self-service implementation reduced cost and improved service, but it did so in ways they didn’t foresee. The self-service capabilities were initially given to the applications teams. They were excited about the ability to execute and monitor their own work, and they saw tremendous value in their business users doing the same. What they found as they rolled out the self-service application was that the groups began working together, communicating more effectively, and understanding each other’s business needs at a deeper and more practical level. The self-service app not only improved productivity and reduced costs, it also cultivated better working relationships and improved shared business knowledge.

Another example is a utility municipality that implemented self-service apps to empower their business users to take control of their work and also bridge a service gap with an outsourcing firm. They used workload automation self-service to further automate their payroll process as well as create new services for their business users.

Without self-service, the IT team gathered the payroll data and created a report for the financial auditors to review. The report was sent to the help desk, which in turn provided it to the financial auditors. Payroll processing was on hold until the financial auditor approval was received. The auditors reviewed the report and called the help desk with their approval, and the help desk opened a service request to restart the payroll process.

By implementing self-service, the IT team creates the payroll report and automatically emails it to the financial auditor. The financial auditor reviews and approves the report. When ready, the financial auditor restarts the payroll process using self-service. This fully automated process has the added benefit of logging all activity for compliance and auditing purposes, as well as eliminating work from the help desk and IT operations.

Meeting Expectations for Ease-of-Use

The key to a successful self-service implementation is a simple user interface and the ability for IT operations to maintain control over the daily business services. Both are needed.

Ease-of-use is essential to meeting the high expectations of today’s end user. Think about the easy-to-use apps on today’s smartphones and tablets that don’t require instructions and have a very specific focus. The expectations of your users are based on their experiences with these personal technologies. They’re transferring those personal experiences to the business environment. When you consumerize IT, “less is more” truly applies.

When implementing self-service for workload automation, make sure you implement a solution that has a user interface designed for the business user. Don’t try to repurpose the interface IT is using. Two elements are essential: a simple interaction model and a service view that’s tailored to the needs of each business user. Without both of these, self-service will most likely fail.

Think about the simplicity of the airlines’ self-service check-in. Instead of surfacing a subset of functionality from the user interface of the reservation system used by the airline personnel, a completely new and easy-to-use interface was designed with only the information and actions the customer needed. Make sure you understand what’s important to your users—how you can improve their ability to do their job and deliver business services.

Keeping IT in Charge While Meeting Business Needs

You still need to set priorities for the business. From that standpoint, two things need to be considered.

First, IT needs a tool that allows it to stay in absolute control of the priorities within the business. We call this dynamic workload management. It allows an IT organization to establish policies that prioritize scheduled services and jobs. Assign the resources that are needed to execute those jobs and processes on time. This gives IT the control to ensure the highest business priorities are met first, regardless of how many self-service requests are made. Second, to make that happen, the workload automation solution should cross all the platforms, databases and applications inside the business.

If you haven’t looked at putting automation in the hands of your business users, now’s the time. It will drive efficiency inside your company, and it's just a matter of time before your business users will demand it.

Make sure to automate in a way that’s useful to the business user, with an interface that’s designed for them. You have to build a relationship between IT and the business users and deliver the information in a way that’s understandable and consumable.

In organizations that are looking to consumerize automation services in particular, it’s up to IT to look over the horizon and begin to build strong relationships with business users today. Don’t wait for users to make demands; take a proactive position. The tools currently available can empower you to begin that process now. And the many tangible benefits make it easy to justify.