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End Users are Speaking: It’s IT’s Turn to Listen

Influencers Prescribe Communication, Focus to Empower Workers with Technology

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There’s a quiet crisis throttling productivity, frustrating end users, and vexing IT leaders: Workers aren’t getting what they need from IT to do their jobs. They’re frustrated, avoiding IT, and becoming less engaged with their work.

The good news is this crisis can be quelled with some simple steps like listening more, asking the right questions, and focusing on the ends — the business objectives — to deploy the means — technology — to empower workers.

This challenge has become acute thanks to a confluence of trends: digital transformation and changing workforce demographics. Digital transformation has solidified the importance of mobility — with mobile technologies and cloud computing, we work anywhere, anytime. Work isn’t a place: It’s what we do. As younger workers — Millennials, Gen-Z especially — flex their muscles in the workplace, IT leaders face a new set of challenges.

“Not all employees use the same apps or require the same devices, and understanding the different mobility needs for each type of worker is critical for success,” stated Forrester Consulting in its report “Redefine Your Workforce Enablement Through Productivity.” What’s worse, “over a third of respondents said that IT doesn’t understand employees’ needs well enough to provide the devices they need to be productive, and IT does not have the knowledge of the emerging technologies that can help its employees to innovate.”

So here’s where IT needs to listen: Workers told Forrester that by tailoring devices and ecosystems, efficiency and productivity will go up, and employee experience and decision-making will improve. We asked members of the IDG Influencer Network for their advice on how IT can do better by these workers.

Accept and Understand the Change

End-user experience and expectations have changed drastically, says Ed Featherston, Distinguished Technologist at Cloud Technology Partners.

“User experience and expectations are informed by their consumer experiences now, so the end-user expectations are no longer just business focused. IT leaders need to engage with them as well as look outside their industry vertical and examine the consumer space.”

Those experiences are also unique to each individual.

“Many IT leaders assume that everyone uses, learns, and understands IT in the same way as the leader,” says Debra Ruh, CEO at Ruh Global Communications. “Your user community audience is diverse, and they have diverse needs,” which sometimes include disabilities. “It is critical to consider accessibility to assure access for all.  Also, listening to diverse sets of needs allows the IT leader to be more innovative and creative.”

Diana Nolting, Director of Product at Anvl, says to start with understanding the problem itself before tackling the technology. 

“IT must consult with users through an investigation of the core problems that exist behind the initial ask,” Nolting says. “End-user needs are never static, so IT needs to fully embrace ongoing user research and conversations as part of an iterative, agile approach to delivering features and functionalities.”

Communication Is Essential

Jessica Cooper, Director of Product Marketing at Vera Security, has some simple advice. “The best way for companies to satisfy the needs of end users is to talk to them,” she says. “This might take the form of surveys or advisory board meetings. Whatever the method, it’s important to actually get the information directly from them—their needs, wants, dislikes, required capabilities, and the business outcomes they want to achieve.”

Cooper says IT shouldn’t just copy a wish list for users. “It’s not just about what they want, but what they hope to achieve by having a better technology and experience of that technology,” she says.

That can require a nuanced approach for IT, says Chuck Brooks, Principal Market Growth Strategist at General Dynamics Mission Systems. “There is often a tendency among technology inventors to ‘build it and they will come,’” he says.

George Gerchow, Chief Security Officer SumoLogic, agrees. “We get in the habit of making decisions on technology without true involvement from the end-user community,” he says.  

The trouble is that “the success rate for such an approach is minimal,” adds Brooks. “Instead, IT leadership need to focus on the challenges and unmet IT needs based on the user experience.”

Communication is a two-way street, reminds Gerchow. While users are talking, “IT leaders need to listen, observe, and acknowledge to be more responsive and satisfy end users’ technology needs,” he says. “User experience and ease of use of technology is everything. Bring them in early, listen, learn, and make your users happy while still meeting requirements.”

Technology Helping Technology

Systems Engineer Martha Cisneros points out that data from help desk solutions can be brought to bear.

“Service Desk reports, a.k.a. Help Desk Software reports, are valuable enterprise applications that can provide insights into end users’ needs if they are properly configurated,” she says. “Reports should provide great insights into the needs of end users. Information is power, hence with quality reports from Service Desks, IT leaders could analyze end-user issues and needs and be responsive to implement solutions.”

Stay Focused, Narrow the KPIs

Several influencers suggested mustering support by focusing on accepted KPIs such as productivity and user experience. Mark Thiele, Edge Computing Engineering at Ericsson, said a better end-user experience starts with buy-in on those KPIs from the top.

“If you have support from the C-Suite, you're more likely to be able to obtain approval for work that ‘enhances customer productivity’ or ‘improves the workplace experience,’” he says.

David Geer, Cybersecurity Content Marketing Writer, is on the focused approach bandwagon. “Limit your criteria for accepting new technologies to productivity, compatibility, security, capacity, and support,” he says.  “If your team, network, and systems can secure and support it and the added yield outweighs the cost, go for it!”

Next, get the users involved, says Thiele, because this is not just about the C-suite: It’s about empowering workers.

“If you're able to focus on productivity and workplace experience you'll need to have regular and direct interaction with a broad range of your end users,” he says. “Having this regular interaction will help you develop a sense for where they are having pain and for what trends in consumer IT they're most interested in.”

Having this exposure and data, he says, will allow you to communicate and deliver expected solutions, which is much better than the usual “being talked at” type of IT messaging tactic.

Into Action

Isaac Socalick, President of StarCIO and author of “Driving Digital,” says all this communication will pay off — you’ll know what end users want.

“After finding the people who want more from technology, IT leaders can then consider whether training, mentoring, investing in integration, reconfiguring tools, or selecting new technologies are the best options to improve workforce productivity and satisfaction,” he says.

Then, think about how to measure and follow up. “Incorporating customer satisfaction scores into regularly conducted end-user surveys can be used to indicate whether IT's platforms and responsiveness are meeting end-user needs.”