Self-service IT solutions have cemented their place in the enterprise as a means for enabling employees to resolve IT issues on their own rather than contacting an IT representative.
Yet as self-service technology advances and matures, many IT leaders are discovering that the concept is capable of evolving into something far more flexible and powerful than a basic help desk replacement.
Today, self-service IT solutions, both purchased and homegrown, target a wide range of activities, from traditional end-user support, to spinning up company-sanctioned cloud instances for new projects and experiments, to data access and analysis on tap.
When combined with human innovation and artificial intelligence, such self-service IT platforms can become faithful assistants, offering support, insights, and solutions in an almost endless array of areas.
Following are a number of developments that are inspiring IT leaders to increasingly embrace self-service as an IT delivery model, as well as tips for safely leveraging the model as a means for helping your organisation work faster, smarter, and better.
1. It’s growing smarter
Self-service IT is typically deployed to supply fast answers to simple questions, particularly when human support is unavailable. Solutions are generally served up from a base of well-curated content. Now, however, artificial intelligence is poised to take self-service advice and insights to a new level.
By injecting AI into the technology, self-service IT platforms can now leverage the relevant information they collect to make suggestions that are both highly accurate and specifically tailored to its user’s precise needs.
“As organisations scale and transform digitally, fast and effective self-learning IT solutions will be essential when building a modern employee experience that propels organisation growth,” says Gary Aliff, acting-CIO and vice president at SaaS product developer Zendesk.
AI-enhanced self-service IT promises to help enterprises reduce manual support workloads and repetitive tasks.
“This will free up support employee time for more complex inquiries that require human involvement,” Aliff says. “AI can also help detect the intent and sentiment of a support ticket and use this information to route tickets to the best resources suited for these, or to the right teams with the right skills to solve the ticket.”
2. It can bring ‘shadow IT’ into the light
Steve Bishop, CTO at IT service management company Verinext, believes that, when equipped with the appropriate digital guardrails to ensure security, self-service IT has the power to address a persistent issue in the enterprise: shadow IT.
“Without these guardrails, self-service is often no more than sanctioned ‘shadow IT,’ which is dangerous and often very expensive for everyone,” he says.
Finding an appropriate balance between security and information access can be challenge, however. “Planning and automation are the keys,” Bishop says, pointing to the recent emphasis on platform engineering, a discipline for designing and building toolchains and workflows that enable self-service capabilities for cloud software engineering organisations, as a way to achieve an acceptable compromise.
“Much of the focus of platform engineering is to try to strike a better balance that provides developers with the flexibility and agility they need with controls that protect the organisation,” he says.
3. It can enhance cloud management
Self-service IT is exceptionally well-suited for routine tasks that traditionally burden IT help desks, such as password resets, access permissions, and resource provisioning. In a private cloud context, however, the technology can be extended to spinning up new servers, containers, or microservices, says Kenny Van Alstyne, CTO for data center technology provider SoftIron.
“Additionally, scaling resources based on project demands can be done in a completely automated way.”
Van Alstyne notes that self-service IT has the potential to reduce IT workloads and can significantly speed up operations. “It’s why the cloud is so attractive to developers,” he observes. “They can quickly gain access and scale the resources they need to develop or deploy new applications or workloads.”
Implementing a self-service IT system in a private cloud environment has traditionally been seen as a high bar to clear, Van Alstyne says.
“The technical skills and resources required to set up and manage such an environment are substantial, and many IT leaders might shy away from this challenge, feeling daunted by the complexity, cost, and risk.”
However, the potential benefits, including stronger data security, improved performance, and better flexibility, generally outweigh the approach’s challenges, particularly for larger organisations or those enterprises operating in heavily regulated sectors.
4. It can be used to leverage expert knowledge
The typical IT department is comprised of several “expert centers” — teams focusing on networks, applications, servers, security, and other key planning and operational areas. All these groups must work in close cooperation to provide essential services across the enterprise.
Self-service can make it easy for any IT team member to obtain knowledge and insights contributed by colleagues working in any particular expert center. No more waiting for an expert to become available, says Song Pang, senior vice president of engineering at network automation platform developer NetBrain. With the assistance of expert insights, “common tasks can be requested and completed quickly at any time to keep the businesses moving ahead.”
Pang observes that the approach also has the potential to reduce risk and errors, as advice is no longer generated by a single individual.
5. It enables one-stop data shopping
To excel in today’s challenging enterprise landscape, IT teams need prompt access to applications and data spanning all business units.
By deploying a self-service delivery model, IT can overcome most issues related to cumbersome manual access processes and deliver resources to end users efficiently and securely, just-in-time, says Vasu Sattenapalli, CEO of data management software developer RightData.
Self-service is now a fact of life for just about everybody, Sattenapalli states. “We’ve all become used to being able to serve ourselves in a variety of situations, such as with online shopping, banking, and so on,” he observes.
Sattenapalli believes the biggest gap IT organisations face is bringing the consumer experience to data access. “A self-service portal that would give data consumers a one-stop-shop for discovering, exploring, access requests, and consuming is what is lacking in the industry.”
Sattenapalli expects that innovative companies will soon develop platforms opening the door to self-service data and application access.
6. It can also democratise data
Business and data analysts often grow frustrated when they can’t find trusted data, struggle to articulate their specific data needs, or when a colleague or customer takes too long to deliver necessary data. Self-service IT can resolve all of these challenges by “democratising data,” making data more easily accessible to users.
While democratising data through self-service sounds like an ideal goal, putting it into practice can be daunting. “Many data leaders remain reluctant to adopt self-service data initiatives,” says Diby Malakar, vice president of product management for data intelligence platform provider Alation.
He notes that data democratisation will require a formalised and structured approach to governance to pinpoint where exactly data is located and to assess data quality. “Otherwise, self-service could compromise data security and bring compliance into question.”
Democratising data requires organisations to centralise their data knowledge — classifying it by origin, description, and historical use — and decentralise access. This is data intelligence, a self-service analytics approach that gives users access to the knowledge they need to quickly search for, discover, and use the right data for the project at hand, Malakar says.
“IT is no longer responsible for disseminating trusted data for every request, removing bottlenecks, and empowering business users to harness data more effectively in their daily work.”
The catch: Self-service requires constant attention
While self-service can free up IT resources by empowering users to address their own IT needs, anyone thinking self-service IT is an entirely hands-off endeavour is in for a surprise.
As self-service IT’s scope widens, it requires constant attention in order to maintain a deep repository of accurate, serviceable knowledge.
Kimberly M. Hollingsworth, associate director of the enterprise service desk at the US Department of Veterans Affairs, notes that meeting this goal requires a behind-the-scenes process of rigorous, iterative, and ongoing cycles of gathering content, reviewing existing components, remediation to capture updates or retirement of items, and creating and maintaining the channels used to share information with users.
Self-service IT’s fundamental trust is built on its offerings’ timeliness, accuracy, and usefulness.
“In a dynamic technological environment, information and details require an aggressive and proactive approach to content management in order to ensure relevance and accuracy,” Hollingsworth says.
“This is the essence of knowledge management, with the goal of creating self-service tools and reliable knowledge repositories that ultimately create a better and more delightful end-user experience.”