Self-service IT: Are users up to the task?

Empowering end users with self-service systems is all the rage for IT these days. What could possibly go wrong?

1 2 Page 2
Page 2 of 2

These IT managers and others agree that the most successful self-service implementations come from an equal partnership between IT and the line of business that's requesting access to data or services. That's not always easy, of course, but keeping these three hurdles in mind during the planning stages can help.

The biggest challenge for IT is to keep tight control over the integrity of corporate data, while still allowing appropriate users a sufficient amount of access to actually accomplish their goals, says Forrester analyst Boris Evelson.

"The best scenario is a win-win when you divide the analytics application stack into multiple components -- data foundations, integration, quality assurance, persistence, warehousing. IT still has to be responsible for those, and for security and robust disaster recovery," Evelson says. "If IT says, 'We are in full control of that' -- if they can say the data resides in one logical place that's securely integrated -- then sure, let users have a field day."

IT should also have a fully nuanced understanding of exactly which user community it's being asked to serve, says BIScorecard's Howson, who has developed a graphic showing what types of users are best served with which types of BI tools. A power user, for example, could probably handle an advanced data-analysis program like Microsoft PowerPivot, while an executive would work best with an interactive dashboard and a front-line worker might need just an interactive report that lets him tweak and re-chart certain rows and columns of data.

Matthew Ripaldi, a senior vice president at the IT staffing and recruiting services company Modis, says he's fully confident that today's workers are able to handle self-service analytics. He's more concerned that not every IT employee is equipped to handle the softer skills necessary to sufficiently define the scope of a project.

"Requirements gathering requires good listening skills. You need someone who can say, 'What do you want this system to do? What analysis are you trying to accomplish?' and then translate that into a tech solution," Ripaldi says.

In cases where the IT staffers assigned to the project are more "black-and-white tech people," Ripaldi recommends bringing in a business analyst -- from the business side or as an outside consultant -- to ensure communication stays on track.

In the end, Forrester's Evelson finds it useful to put the self-service movement in context. Yes, self-service access to enterprise data gives users power and flexibility they haven't had before, and yes, that requires a higher level of control on the part of IT, he says.

But by the same token, these new systems are part of a trend that's been building ever since computers became personal. "Business users have been using spreadsheets since the day they were invented. If you think about it, [Microsoft] Excel is still the No. 1 BI tool out there."

Tracy Mayor is a Computerworld contributing editor.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

1 2 Page 2
Page 2 of 2
7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon