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Why All Users Should Not Be Equal in the Eyes of IT

by Lior Arussy

August 11, 2009

A shift to user-centricity is core to the future of IT. The shift starts with IT gaining a firm understanding of how information is consumed and by whom. Discover some strategies for getting to know your users - and then figuring out how to treat them differently.

For many years, the key focus of the IT group in organizations was to deploy tools and applications. IT professionals brought to the table their keen understanding of technology, their ability to select and implement tools, and their ability to maintain and upgrade those technology tools. They generally deployed these resources with a mass-production mindset. Most users were treated in the same way and were typically left to their own devices to find the information they required. In short, IT's role was to implement the tools, and users were responsible for taking things from there.

This model falls short of the customized solutions that different user lifestyles require. Obviously, finance users require different solutions and perhaps different service levels from IT than do operations folks. That's not the distinction I'm referring to. Here, I am talking about catering IT services to different user lifestyles. I'm talking about differentiating the types of offerings you provide to those who travel a lot and those who don't, to those who punch a clock and those who don't. These lifestyle issues can radically alter the way users consume information, and IT service offerings must account for that.

In addition to making distinctions about lifestyle, IT must truly understand the varying impact different users have on the business. By focusing on the masses, IT invariably invests more time and resources in those users who have a limited effect on the actual business, while high-impact users are short-changed. By not prioritizing and differentiating the services and tools given to users, IT creates a lack of balance. Often, the result is that users who have serious business impact in the organization are under-serviced, while those who perform supporting tasks of far less consequence are over-serviced.

During a consulting engagement with a large IT organization serving more than 100,000 users, we found that the IT help desk treated users on a first come, first served basis as opposed to the users' value and impact on the business. An additional challenge was that problem prioritization was dictated in the service level agreement, which was also based on mass access and not on an individual's effect on the business.

This created some odd situations: An administrative assistant who experienced a printer problem in the course of a routine activity and one of relatively little consequence received immediate attention, while a sales VP traveling to Hong Kong to work on a deal of critical import to the company was left hanging when he urgently needed assistance. These were not isolated instances.

In another part of the business, the customer service organization wrestled with more than 100 different legacy systems for order management. Duplication of information across these systems made it difficult, if not impossible, to manage customer needs in a holistic way, and as a result, rampant problems and inconsistencies surrounded product-pricing activities.

These types of distortions reflect IT's lack of understanding of the user community it serves. Being experts in tools, IT delegates the user experience to the users and expects them to get what they need. This reflects the same mindset as companies that live by the motto "build it and they will come."

To become a true strategic partner and a business contributor, IT must shift its focus of operation to a user-centric model. This model will allow IT professionals to measure success based on the impact of the tools and services and not merely on their availability. By focusing on users who affect the business first, IT will ensure a maximum return on investment for the tools it acquired, deployed, and maintains. For many IT organizations, this will require significant reorganization of priorities to ensure that different services will be delivered to different users based on their impact on the business and their lifestyles.

In the case of the consulting engagement mentioned above, IT ultimately segmented users into three groups: mobile users, career-minded users, and work/life-balance users:

  • Mobile users were defined as users with more than 50 percent mobility in their work. They also had high touch with customers and often had a direct or indirect influence over a large budget or revenue.

  • Career-minded users were usually more office-oriented and traveled less than 50 percent of their time. They often supported the mobile users and were focused on their professional career and progress within the organization.

  • Work/life-balance users were not interested in their work at the same level as the career-minded users. They were equally concerned about their work/life-balance and had other interests outside the organization. They treated their work as a 9-to-5 job.

Each group had certain financial and behavioral characteristics that allowed us to allocate resources and to design services for them accordingly. For mobile users, we designed the exception as their method of obtaining information, due to their high dependency on PDAs. The career-minded users were given higher help-desk priority. Those who were defined as work/life-balance users were directed to more types of self-service methods to obtain their information.

SAP NetWeaver Can Help with the Transition

SAP NetWeaver gives IT shops the ability to make this leap to a user-centric model. IT professionals have several SAP NetWeaver tools at their disposal to address different types of user behavior.

Use SAP NetWeaver's role-based mechanism to segment users. Because every IT organization is facing resource restrictions, segmenting users based on their behavioral needs results in better alignment of resources and a more favorable impact on the business.

Drive better decisions by leveraging business intelligence. Through knowing users' behavior and tracking their performance, IT possesses the knowledge and ability to build the business intelligence to support their decisions. From providing scenario-based alternatives to risk assessments, SAP NetWeaver business intelligence capabilities should assist IT in building the decision-making support users need.

Create portals for users. Mobile users can receive their information through the mobile portal, while the Web portal can deliver services to work/life-balance users. Every organization accumulates a great deal of experiences and expertise that should be shared and exchanged internally. Creating marketing, HR, sales, and other function-based portals enables the exchange of information based on users' interests and career choices and maximizes information sharing.

Create composite applications to address different types of user behavior. Composite applications extend the reach of business intelligence and of traditional enterprise applications, providing consistency and optimal business value through the automation of repeatable, operational decisions. Through the use of xApps, mobile users, for example, can have their critical information delivered via mobile devices. Executives who spend 50 percent or more of their time on the road can have IT redefine their reports to be exception-based, not full-fledged 50-page reports.

A Lot Rides on This Shift

The shift to user-centricity is core to the future of IT. The focus on tools and applications must give way to a business orientation. The business of running IT servers, storage, and applications is increasingly becoming a commodity and not a value-added activity; this is why many organizations elect to outsource these functions. Unless IT drives growth and users' productivity, it will sign its own death warrant for irrelevance and accelerate its own commoditization. The shift starts with IT gaining a firm understanding of how information is consumed and by whom.

Ultimately, this shift is about IT taking ownership of the user experience and ensuring that its product - information - meets and exceeds user expectations. By following the lead of the organization, which is attempting to achieve customer-centricity with its external customers, IT should apply the same set of rules to its own internal customers.

How well do you really know your users? Consider the following questions:




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Do you prioritize calls to the help desk by importance to the company rather than by first come, first served?

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Do you take into account the percentage of time users spend outside the office when deciding on how to deliver information and the ways in which you make information available to them?

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Can you point to the most useful pieces of information in your organization?

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Do you know the most sought-after types of information in your organization and what they are being used for?

Answering "no" to any of these questions should give you pause. It's an indication that your desired user-centricity has a way to go.  You may consider yourself user-centric, but the above simple litmus test indicates otherwise.

Lior Arussy is the president of Strativity Group, Inc., a customer experience research and consulting firm. Arussy is the author of Innovating IT: Transforming IT from Cost Crunchers to Growth Drivers (John Wiley & Sons, 2004) and Passionate & Profitable: Why Customer Strategies Fail and 10 Steps to Do Them Right! (John Wiley & Sons, 2005). You may contact Lior at

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