Everybody likes self-service these days. We have self-service gas, self-service car washes--heck you can even self-service your mortgage application with just a few mouse clicks.
So it’s no surprise that knowledge workers are bringing this ethos to the office and bumping up against the idea of someone else telling them what resources and applications they can use to do their jobs, and how to get them. In organizations that push back against self-service, many employees simply seek their data infrastructure elsewhere, driving up levels of shadow IT.
The cloud, of course, is rife with self-service options, but the challenge for the enterprise is to enable this level of autonomy without losing complete control of the data environment. According to Sarah Lahav, CEO of the service management company SysAid Technologies, the biggest drawback to self-service cloud portals is that there is no one to help when things go wrong. Tech support among third-party vendors and service providers has always been a bone of contention for enterprise users, but when critical pieces of infrastructure are held by others and there is a two-hour wait to get tech support on the phone, failure jumps from a minor inconvenience to a major hit to the business model.
Many organizations are turning to hybrid clouds for this very reason. By owning the critical piece of infrastructure that enables the self-service portal, organizations can provide the functionality that workers need while still maintaining control of the work environment behind the scenes. According to Peer 1 Hosting’s Toby Owens, self-service portals at most providers offering hybrid services have become so simplified that nearly anyone who can use a mouse can provision their own resources. Many enterprises are opting for pre-configured networks and bare-metal server options that allow for a high degree of scalability without the hassle of manual provisioning. It’s a win-win-win for the user, the enterprise and the provider.
Organizations also have the option to enable self-service for some functions but not others. Earlier this month, a company called ZapStitch rebranded itself as Pipemonk to provide self-service data integration for enterprise users. The company has developed an application connector that allows users to generate reports from the combined data of multiple applications in real time. This is a more streamlined approach than is usually found on the cloud in that it enables migration directly on the application level, rather than through a self-service portal on a legacy integration platform. The service is available via a visual tool that does not require any code or, more importantly, assistance from internal IT.
And if there is one function that cloud providers would want to push to self-service more than any other, it’s the decision to lease cloud resources from the start. NaviSite has taken this to a new level with its Self-Service Onboarding option, part of a suite of services aimed at supporting cloud infrastructure for businesses. The option provides downloadable tutorials and other resources to enable users with a solid technical foundation to begin the provisioning process with only minimal support. If additional help is needed, the company offers a Guided Cloud Onboarding solution or a fully managed migration solution.
The desire for self-service has been driven largely by the nature of enterprise infrastructure up to this point. Servers, storage, networking and the software architectures they support have long been the province of IT because of their highly technical nature. Now, with layers of abstraction capable of placing highly automated constructs between the infrastructure and the user, IT’s traditional role of doling out resources is seen as more of a help than a hindrance to the business process.
This is forcing the enterprise to allow more autonomy to its knowledge workers, but it is a tricky dance, as many workers may not be as savvy as they think they are when it comes to managing complex data ecosystems. And in the end, most users will do what is best for themselves even if it winds up hurting broader organizational goals.
Self-service is a vital tool in the data-driven economy, but like anything else it should not be over- or under-utilized. Self-service gas is fine, but self-service brake jobs are quite another matter.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.