by Craig Roth | March 14, 2011 | Comments Off on Finding the Happy Medium Between IT Development and End User Computing
Around 1990, an end user computing tool began making the rounds at the financial services firm where I worked. It did quick database and forms work, and a typical set of pros and cons emerged as central IT struggled with embracing it as a way to empower the business units (alternately worded as “get them off our backs for the piddly stuff”) or exterminating it like a weed (“they’ll just get themselves in trouble and we’ll have to fix it”).
In the end, that tool died on its own, as end user tools back then were pretty limited in function and not easy enough to use. How things have changed! Since then, a string of products emerged that kept improving on end user computing (in no particular order): Microsoft Access, Lotus Notes, Microsoft SharePoint, Google Apps, Zoho, etc.
The modern set of end user computing tools are not just better because of their ease of use or functionality, although those have certainly improved. The key improvement is in governance and management. With Access and its ilk, you either had it or you didn’t – there wasn’t centralized, app-aware administration. With portals, Domino, or SharePoint, there is increasingly more ability for central IT to manage the infrastructure, leverage users and groups from an enterprise directory, set policies that permit or prevent users from performing certain functions, keep aware of the “apps” being created, upgrade them as needed, and control licenses.
In addition, there is more ability for IT to provide reusable artifacts such as role definitions, meta data definitions, templates, styles, portlets/widgets, and workflows. These artifacts are not fully rendered applications, but rather a headstart that enables the business unit to create an instance (like picking it from a catalog) and then customize to meet their needs without starting from scratch.
Consider an example for a call center that sells technically sophisticated products. The owners of the collaborative infrastructure (take your pick of SharePoint, Domino, a wiki, a portal) could note that sets of agents with certain expertise often want to create “FAQs”, so they create a customizable FAQ template that incorporates the metadata from the product management system, provides a nicer display that the default discussion groups, attaches a document repository (that permits certain file types but not others), and an email notification option. Any call center group that wants an FAQ can now click to receive this one and customize from there, possibly providing name, logo, colors, and images.
Done properly, everyone is happy. The business gets instant gratification and control over the final bits without having to run begging to IT. And IT is assured that the application has the important parts locked down and can manage the resulting app.
I see the need for a new central IT skillset around service delivery to enable this vision. IT hasn’t been training in the squishy center between “we’ll do it” and “you do it”. This skillset requires demand management – the idea that IT understands its responsibility to understand what the business does, understands its needs, and assumes the risk of delivering reusable artifacts. It also requires a different type of design – creating reusable artifacts based on an aggregate set of needs is different than standard requirements gathering, signoff, and rollout.
But I’m convinced that only when organizations can feel comfortable in the area emerging between IT development and end user computing will they make a quantum leap in the benefits they get from collaborative infrastructure.
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