Every IT management book mentions how imperative it is for IT managers to cultivate strong relationships with end users and understand the business. What the textbooks don't mention is the value of the super user—the person on the side of the business who possesses a working knowledge of IT, deeply understands the business and can work with you to advance the case for IT.
In short, super users play a crucial role in an IT project's success. Think of them as internal systems experts, adept communicators, strong leaders, and problem solvers.
Most importantly, super users serve as indelible IT champions, even when projects encounter periods of difficulty, as most projects do.
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The takeaway for IT managers and CIOs remains clear: Develop a network of super users and IT advocates throughout your company, and IT will reap the benefits.
Five ways to develop a network of super user
1. Meet the super user on their turf
If an IT manager wants to cultivate a network of super users, this must begin by getting out from behind a desk and visiting the super users on their turf. The second part is spending time learning and understanding business functions and problems that users work with. How do systems support that effort? From an IT standpoint what would really benefit the business that the business doesn't already own?
2. Qualify your super user
There are always people on the business side of the enterprise who are fascinated with IT, and would "like to do something with computers." However, they don't all possess the skillsets and mindsets for IT work—or the ability to become a super user. Questions to consider: Is your super user a master of current systems? How well does he know the end business? Would he welcome working alongside IT in the development and deployment of applications if it cut into his regular workload? Is he well regarded by his peers, and do they trust and listen to him when it comes to the system and improving business? Is he an able communicator, mentor, teacher, and promoter? A true super user should answer "yes" to all of these questions.
3. Actively engage super users in projects and communications
Once a super user signs on with an IT project, he expects to be ingrained in project communications and progress. Ideally, he should be a member of an interdisciplinary team during project inception, requirements definition, and design—and he should continue his role as an active participant through application pilot testing, development, testing, training, deployment, and support. If he is to be an effective ambassador for an up-and-coming system in his business area, he also needs to have current IT knowledge.
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4. Deliver value to the business
By taking on the role of super user, your business person aligns with your IT efforts, so don't disappoint them. The systems you deliver must work correctly, be easy to use, and deliver business value that is readily perceived by everyone else in the business area. If IT comes up short in any of these areas, the super user risks a loss of credibility with his/her business peers and won't be so willing to assist in an IT project the next time around.
5. Acknowledge super user effort
A great super user stays loyal to system deployment efforts and possesses a sincere commitment to ushering in a system that will help the business. He understands the commitment to work on a system from the user end invariably adds more work to his plate, but he is willing to do it to see the business suceed.
After the project is over, take the time to personally acknowledge the super user's efforts. Many times, super users are the difference between projects being accepted or failing in a business enterprise.
Of course, having a super user-advocate is no guarantee that a project will work. But it is an active endorsement from a key business influencer that can enhance the value of your project—and make success far likelier.
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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.