Developing successful end user strategies

Even if you can't predict the IT future, you can sharpen you planning skills. Trent McNeeley offers suggestions for developing an effective end user plan.

Too bad Nostradamus didn’t take a job as an IT pro. He would probably be the only one in the industry who could predict the future and get it right.

Every day, IT professionals act like soothsayers—issuing predictions about how technology changes will impact their businesses. An accurate forecast is especially vital in determining what will happen with end user trends. The landscape here changes rapidly, so you’ll need to anticipate and prepare for these changes.
In this article, we outline the top business concerns when considering the needs of the end user. Learn what trends are shaping this area and how to avoid outsourcing blunders.
A tool for every use
You don’t need to read tea leaves to know that major trends will include the proliferation and fragmentation of the various client devices supported by companies. “The number of intelligent mass-access devices that you have that will be network-enabled, network-attached is going to proliferate beyond and around things like the PC,” said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst with GartnerGroup. “I’m talking about things like cell phones, PDAs, pagers, TV sets, even your car and wristwatch. And a good deal of those devices will be wireless enabled, of course.”

GartnerGroup predicts that by 2004 the number of client devices supported by various companies will multiply by five times the current amount—and all that additional demand will come at a price. GartnerGroup also expects that fragmentation in mobile form factors, or physical layouts, will raise system support costs by 10 percent through 2003. “There will be a much wider variety of devices, particularly many more appliances that are small, inexpensive, single-purpose computing assets,” said senior analyst Andrew Efstathiou of the Yankee Group . “These devices are now [becoming] multifunctional, and at a much more powerful level.”

Keeping up with just how these devices work will challenge you and your co-workers.

A good example is mobile assets. People use mobile devices in dozens of different ways, “[s]o it will be incumbent upon CIOs to at least provide a minimum level of training, a course or corporate knowledge management to provide a certain minimum amount of consistency of use across the organization,” Efstathiou said.

Does a free phone come with that?
A move to subscription-based IT and other outsourcing will impact the CIO and end users. A recent GartnerGroup report predicts that in four years, nearly half of all large companies will outsource at least 60 percent of their desktop and laptop life-cycle management responsibilities. Gartenberg believes hardware vendors who provide outsourcing services will have perfect timing. Just when they are seeking predictable revenue streams, companies will be finding it more difficult to justify hardware upgrade purchases. These companies may look to outsourcing to protect their budgets.

Buyer beware
But outsourcing your hardware upgrade might not be in your best interest. ”Read the fine print,” Gartenberg said. “It’s like those offers you get for 10 CDs for a penny: It sounds good up front, but they do have some strings attached.”

Another analyst believes outsourcing to a hardware vendor is worth considering. “There is a lot of risk, but there is also a great deal of opportunity potential here,” said Bill Martorelli, a vice president with The HurwitzGroup . “A vendor could provide functionality and capability that may not otherwise exist.”

To reduce risk and maximize reward, you’ll need better staffing and a favorable contract. “A good engagement manager is terribly important to this process,” Efstathiou said. “And you need two of them, one on the user side and one on the vendor side.” Another precaution: Match the subscription term to the IT life cycle. “You don’t want a fixed price to last 10 years if the tech changes every two or three years,” he said.

The solution provided should be properly engineered for each individual case and not sold as one size fits all. Efstathiou warns that an over-engineered solution will cost too much, while an under-engineered one will fall apart.

Trim the fat
Assign your IT team to review how it’s all working on a regular basis. Thorough reviews are obvious safeguards, but they're often ignored. “The CIO and IT managers don’t always recognize a review is as important as they should,” Gartenberg said.

Just how frequently should you schedule a review? It depends on the type of business you’re working for and the structure of your IT department.

“For example, [for] a bank whose core product systems are typically proprietary, legacy systems that are not thrown out every year cannot change as often as, say, a publishing company or startup enterprise,” Efstathiou said. Keep in mind you have to be aware of the latest technology so that you can calculate how much time you’ll need to make changes. “Even if you decide that you want to implement something in two years, it may take that long to architect it and find the right people to put it in,” said Efstathiou.

The shape of things to come
Controlling costs may be a headache throughout this process, but there’s a noticeable payoff. The end user will likely see a portal interface with more powerful means to navigate and manipulate large databases.

“This will hopefully lead the CIO to see more productivity from workers,” Efstathiou said.

In addition, the budget will benefit from an increase in renting applications, services, and equipment rather than purchasing them.

“I think there will also be a greater ability for the CIO to apply those expenditures back to individual lines of business, tracking usage by department and being better able to accurately apply back costs where they belong.”

Freelance writer Trent D. McNeeley decided to hire a gardener to tend to his end user landscape.

What are you doing to prepare for changes in the end user equation? Post a comment below.

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