The end-user renaissance forces a disruptive shift in IT
User empowerment is the latest incarnation of the effect of consumerization on enterprise IT. In their personal lives, business users are enjoying a technology renaissance that continues to deliver simple, elegant and often innovative technology products. Now that the bar has been reset, users are unlikely to accept a stark drop-off in experience from their personal to professional lives. With the rapid pace of technology change today, it’s more important than ever for CIOs to guide the business through the inevitable disruption of technology innovations, and to be seen as co-conspirators by their empowered users, enabling – and accelerating – the upward journey.
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Chief Information Officer
“Why not?” That is my mantra when our business users are looking to adopt some new piece of technology they believe can help them do their jobs better – flipping the burden of proof, and being open to the evolving role of IT. Sometimes there are very good reasons why not, and in those cases we’re quick to say so. These may include security, maintainability or reliability. But these days, we’re seeing a host of commercially available tools that combine ease-of-use with deep capabilities that we could have only dreamed about a few years ago. So, when we’re asked to approve a new technology, I challenge our team with this question: Why can’t we let our people do more on their own? Especially when doing so gives us room to take on bigger, higher-value issues.
This approach has been a positive development for our IT organization, and for our business. But we’ve had to adapt our priorities along the way. A great example is in the information space. As the tools became user-friendly enough to allow the business to play a more hands-on role, we shifted from building reports to building a reporting platform to allow users to create their own information views. Our charter became educating our business users on proper usage, teaching them to be good stewards while we moved on to different challenges. But we stay close, because if we’re not getting value from those investments, we all lose. It’s our job to make sure our empowered users take advantage of the functionality offered by a new tool.
Along with user empowerment, of course, comes the need for stepped-up security. The consumerization of business technology threatens to expose our organization to additional risks. Give everyone the keys to the cloud, for example, and you could be asking for problems – not only in terms of data breaches and theft, but also the unintentional sharing of confidential corporate data. As the lines separating business use from personal use continue to blur, the risks increase for everyone involved. An effective security infrastructure is more important than ever.
User empowerment has also strengthened our focus on process. In fact, this is probably the most important shift we’ve made. It’s easy to overlook the process implications of new, user-friendly technology, given how quickly adoption can happen. It’s not surprising that some users expect new technology to be a panacea for deeper issues rooted in their processes. But simplicity should to start from the business process. That’s where my IT organization can add a lot of value, making sure that our people have specified their needs clearly from the outset – and are planning for the process changes needed to help ensure that new tools deliver the expected value.
This can be frustrating for business leaders, who may think we’re presenting unnecessary obstacles and gumming up the works. But as long as we take the time to explain the thinking behind our approach, it’s easy to get them on board. When that happens, they can be smarter about the technology investments we’re making together, and we’re able to maintain a high level of quality across our portfolio.
Where do you start?
Embracing user empowerment does not require a wholesale scuttling of corporate IT. If done well, it should be a framing force that permeates the entire IT delivery model, positively redefining the brand of IT in the business. Considerations:
- Begin with the user. User engagement takes a user-centric, role-based, persona-aware view of your stakeholders. Who are they? How do they do their jobs? (This is especially important for understanding how customers and consumers interact with the organization.) What devices do they have at their disposal? What are their current challenges? And, perhaps most importantly, how could new technologies (think cloud, mobile, social, analytics) and philosophies like outside-in architecture contribute to rethinking how people work? In the end, simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication. Aim for usability, intuitiveness and focus.
- Walk in their shoes. Do a gut check. Take a hard look at how well users’ needs are being met, using consumer-facing tools and third-party solutions as benchmarks. Send some of your team to the front lines to get a feel for how work actually gets done – and where IT’s capabilities currently miss the mark.
- Know your competition. Consumer app stores with enterprise-oriented wares continue to expand, whether cloud-based, desktop-based or mobile-based. Find out which third-party solutions or “almost-enterprise” applications might engage your users, even if they are only “just good enough” architecturally. Adopt a services mentality that allows leading solutions, even if they are sourced outside of central IT.
- Accept reality. CIOs no longer hold a monopoly on technology talent in a workplace that is increasingly comprised of tech-savvy workers who can bring programming backgrounds to their jobs, regardless of job function or educational background. The displacement of boomers by digital natives is part of this trend. Widespread adoption of consumer electronics – especially smart phones, tablets and gaming systems – is another. As the internal customer base becomes more technologically capable and open to experimentation, so do the number of channels through which they can circumvent IT and source their own solutions.
- Productize. Adopt a product-management mentality. Start with small pilots and create a mechanism for receiving end-user feedback through customer research and competitive scanning. Borrow a page from the business – thinking about IT’s services in terms of the four Ps (product, positioning, pricing, placement). Design IT processes to fit better with Agile and Scrum approaches that focus on quick releases and faster time-to-market. Running IT as a business isn’t just about efficiency and efficacy – it’s also about making sure the perceived value of your offering is higher than the next available offering. That’s the way to embrace consumerization, stay relevant in the face of democratization and leave engaged, empowered users in your wake.
The forces behind user empowerment can elicit a defeatist or even scornful response from the CIO. Isn’t it enough to keep the lights on? Haven’t users gotten the job done with the user experience of ERP and large-scale custom systems? Users may complain – but it still works. Am I really expected to try to create dazzling, engaging solutions?
Well, yes. Expectations for technology have irreversibly changed. Now that the bar has been reset, users are unlikely to accept a stark drop-off in experience from their personal to professional lives. The means are already in place to circumvent core IT. Capital is flowing to mobile application and public cloud provider ventures for each user, each process and each job function – and they’re looking to take over more than their share of the IT budget.
CIOs should reimagine IT services, starting with a commitment to the user. Inject creative and design thinking into the delivery model. Move from “thou shalt not” mandates to services that guide and aid the adoption of almost-enterprise applications. Aspire to deliver innovative, intuitive, usable and simple solutions – and harness the power of your empowered users for higher business performance.
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