As IT adds new technology initiatives, its staff headcount has remained flat for years. Meanwhile, end users are becoming more comfortable with the idea of IT "self service." Should IT work on a self-service principle? Self-service won't work in every case—but here are 10 areas where it is working in IT.
1: More testing process automation
By setting up user test accounts and resources and authorizing users so they can sign into systems and apps when it is convenient for them to do testing, IT eliminates phone calls and requests for app testing setups. An activity log can capture test resource usage by user name or department, and if testing is an internal billable item, IT can send the bills to various user departments.
Most sites already have a variation of this mechanism in place, but they lack an orderly procedure for test resource provisioning that ensures that the test resources (and a user-friendly service portal) exist in advance of testing so users and IT don't lose time having to set this up on the spot. Test result outcomes can also be automated into process flows that enable users to report bugs as they are testing, with those reports being routed to the appropriate IT person. As IT fixes bugs, a similar automated communication can be sent out to requesting users so they know that problems have been resolved. This backend automation eliminates numerous communications breakdowns and enables individuals to work on their own, when it is convenient for them.
2: User ID issuance and renewals
In a day when process automation is growing in IT, the issuance or renewal of user IDs and passwords can still be a heavily manual process. Frequently, the issuance of these IDs and passwords comes about in the HR orientation process when new employees are involved. However, it could be just as easily facilitated if user area managers had a self-service portal into the system where they could send IT new user requests (or perhaps existing users with a new permissions clearance). IT security and network personnel could take it from here—sending an auto message to the area manager when the process was complete.
3: Data retention policies
Like user ID issuance and renewals, data retention is another area where policies are manually executed. Decisions on how long to keep accounting, HR, manufacturing, sales, and other data are made in separate meetings between IT and these areas' managers—and the meetings can be long and tedious. A self-service approach to data retention could eliminate these one-on-one meetings. IT would send out an annual update screen to each area end-user manager that lists the area's data resources and current data retention policies and ask managers to either sign off on existing policy to continue it or to make changes. This self-service update could then be sent to the IT data administrator. The transaction log from data retention reviews could be stored for auditors to review when they check on data governance.
4: Pull-and-push apps
The distribution of new software releases can be automated by simply pushing them down from central IT to an end user device whenever the user turns on his or her device. Conversely, if users (or IT) are opposed to a fully automated update process, they could "pull" an update into their devices by receiving an online notification from IT of a new release and opting in by downloading it. All this can be done without contacting IT.
Training on new IT apps and even coursework on business functions and systems can be a fully automated self service, with end users logging onto a training portal and choosing the courses they want to take online.
6: User request log
New enhancements for apps and systems can be automated into a self-service workflow where end users work with predesigned online templates that describe the feature or function being asked for, the app it is located in, and any other details IT needs in order to schedule and work on the request. A self service like this saves IT time meeting with end users for straightforward enhancements to apps, reserving the in-person meeting time for more complicated changes to systems.
7: Asset registration
If IT is the central purchasing agent for new hardware and software, it can set up a self-service portal for user new equipment requests that also enables users to fill out equipment and software receipt documentation. These entries can be placed into IT asset management and tracking systems and will help ensure that IT assets are not misplaced or forgotten.
Self service and process automation can be enabled for end-user requests for equipment repairs—with the requests going to an IT service area. Once repairs are effected, the system can automatically notify the end user of the fact.
9: Self-serve reports
In the age of analytics, different business areas are seldom aware of the myriad reports on company activity that are already available in IT and that possibly were developed at one time by other business areas. IT could establish a "gallery" of these reports that end users could browse and select from.
10: Peak time cloud resource provisioning
Each year, different company areas run into "peak time" resource needs and must increase their average IT resource consumption for a time. This might be sales, which anticipates an usually busy promotion, or finance, which must contend with resource-intensive processing of the year-end closing tasks. IT often understands the ebbs and flows of these needs—but needs can also surface unexpectedly. A self-service portal allows the end user to get the extra resource request rolling.
Has your IT department found other ways to implement self-service in your organization? Share your experiences and advice with fellow TechRepublic members.
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Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturing company in the semiconductor industry. Mary is a keynote speaker and has more than 1,000 articles, research studies, and technology publications in print.