The first business computer, the Lyons Electronic Office (LEO), went into service in November 1951. It ran applications for a British tea and catering company. In the decades that have followed, information technology (IT) has become an integral part of nearly every aspect of business. Try to imagine work without computers, without devices, without ready access to information anytime, anywhere. Computing is a constant and necessary part of our lives.
So why is it that in so many corporate environments, core IT services are still requested and delivered through restrictive processes managed by technologists? One answer is that's simply the way it's always been. Like the wizard behind the curtain, users were shielded from the great an powerful force of computing. Precedent, however, does not imply perfection. If, as Stewart Brand observed in 1984, "information wants to be free", shouldn't information systems be readily accessible?
Another argument is that computing is comprised of expensive and highly complex systems that only a dedicated, highly trained staff can manage. Technological changes like cloud computing are changing that, though. The National Institute of standards and Technology (NIST) defines cloud computing as
“a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.”
Read that description a second time and compare it with traditional IT. What a contrast! Cloud is surely appealing to anyone frustrated with their central IT department.
The Specter of Shadow IT
IT has long had a paternalistic attitude towards end users. “They need us”, they say, or “we’re just keeping them safe.” But unlike the child that’s eventually allowed to go off on their own, most IT departments won’t let go. In response, many end users – developers, line of business owners, and the like – look for unsanctioned alternatives. They create islands of “shadow IT” outside the visibility or control of their IT parents. It can start innocently enough – perhaps they use an online file sharing service to get around size limits for email attachments. But it doesn’t stop there. They may start using personal email accounts for work-related activities. Before you know it they’re in full rebellion. They store source code in online repositories or download the company directory to Google docs.
“I’ll have to be firmer with them”, reasons the CIO, or “perhaps they’ll grow out of it.”
“You just don’t get it”, say the end users. “I need to live my life, not yours!”
Handing Over the Keys
The time has come for a different approach. If IT aspires to be viewed as a business enabler rather than a cost center, they need to provide services in a cloud-like way. While this may sound difficult or scary, it doesn’t have to be.
Just as cloud computing is made up of services, an internal IT service catalog can present users with a variety of ready-to-order services. On the back end, systems administrators need only to create initial templates and then set up mechanisms for instantiation. From that point on, it’s lather-rinse-repeat.
There are many benefits of user self-service. Here are a few:
- IT organizations have far greater visibility into the systems, software, and security for which they are ultimately responsible.
- IT is able to establish and control systems standards. This is far more appealing than having to either support or seek-out-and-destroy environments set up by others.
- Overall IT costs, usage, and trends are clearer.
- Self-service enables that most elusive of IT dreams, chargeback.
- Companies have a far easier time passing compliance audits because they have greater control (and security teams can sleep at night).
- Most importantly, users are more productive. They spend their time doing what they were hired to do rather than setting up and managing unsanctioned services.
For companies ready to move to user self-service, there are many IT orchestration and management platforms to choose from. They range from do-it-yourself tools to highly-structured professional services engagements from big consulting or enterprise software companies. To decide what’s right for your organization, start by channeling your inner Stephen Covey and “begin with the end in mind”. Identify your target users. Define the services and user experience you want to offer. List in clear, business-centric terms the benefits of self-service. Establish tracking metrics to determine how well things are working, and measure the current baseline.
In the age of cloud computing, it’s increasingly difficult for IT departments to push back on user requests. To stay relevant, IT needs to enable users to get what they need, when they need it.
CloudBolt enables user self-service to a wide variety of cloud and virtualization sources. Our simple, intuitive user portal delivers business agility while maintaining control through approval workflow, usage quotas, and time-bound leases. Costs are clearly indicated, making chargeback/showback/shameback simple. Best of all, CloudBolt installs quickly. You can be up and running in less than an hour, without the need for costly professional services.