Should users get the IT they want or the IT you can afford?

Developers and designers looking for mass adoption of the gadgets and devices they create make sure their technology is user-centric. The more closely software and systems match user expectations, needs and wants, the more successful they are. The cleverest tech can even shape and pre-empt what the consumer might want in future.

What users want

But in a business environment is user-centric tech a realistic aim? Is it even possible? Can hard-pressed central IT departments who have to deliver on scale, cost and security really afford to consider the different desires and demands from hundreds or thousands of corporate users? User needs and IT reality don’t always align. Balancing corporate objectives with digital innovation is going to be a huge challenge for many businesses over the coming years. Those that want to get it right should focus on the commercial, operational and cultural aspects of technology-led transformation.

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Cost-conscious compromises

Most big businesses have staff travelling internationally or working remotely. That mobility comes with a big commercial challenge for IT: people expect constant connectivity through tools that allow them to work, browse and call home while in transit.

An entirely user-centric approach would allow everyone complete autonomy through unrestricted roaming across all internationally used devices. A cost-centric mindset would not. Indeed, a single business trip could cost thousands of pounds, particularly if employees are using a company phone to check personal emails and call home.

An alternative is to offer restricted roaming to certain staff. This would save money, but leave the needs of some users unmet. A middle way might involve restrictions on data or a BYOD solution. Tools that are IT-enabled, but user-controlled, encourage responsibility and cost-awareness in both camps.

Automation is a win-win

Operational automation is one area where IT might be wise to adopt a user-centric starting point. Technology that removes time-consuming, repetitive or menial tasks from an employee’s workload frees them to focus on the parts of their job that yield the most return on their time for the business.

Take call centre call logging. Once upon a time, an employee had to manually file a recorded call in a CRM system. Now it just happens automatically as soon as the call is complete. Scaled up over thousands or millions of calls in a large call centre, automated logging frees up hundreds of hours each year.

This is the kind of ‘labour-saving’ operational capability employees will expect in the future – and it’s a win-win: IT departments can meet employee expectations while increasing organisational efficiency. However if staff are forced to use what they perceive to be too much automation software they could feel an erosion of that trust or lack of security. IT leaders need to strike the right pace.

Cultural implications

CIOs certainly need to focus on security, cost and resource management. But when IT departments continually ignore users’ needs for functionality, connectivity and access to modern devices, you get conflict and resentment. Frustrated employees who feel they are not trusted with data and devices, or not adequately equipped to work are less productive and add less value. That’s no foundation on which to build successful businesses.

Equally an IT team that feels constantly beleaguered and out of control has a negative effect on company culture. If historically they’ve set all the parameters for how the rest of the company interacts with devices and data, their considerations should certainly be heard. But if the company has traditionally allowed employees relative freedom to meet their own needs with tech, then substantial changes could well cause upset and alienation.

The balance is crucial. Those organisations that get it right will benefit from happy staff and a happy IT team. Those who get it wrong will face high staff turnover and increasingly fraught IT decision-making.

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19 April 2017 | Cem Ahmet

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The views in this article are the personal views of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Gamma.