Towards the Self-Service Technology Utopia

The IT department is often at the nexus of new technology and necessary maintenance, balancing risk with unwavering security. In this executive series, we take a look at what key challenges IT departments are facing today, and share our expertise in alleviating IT headaches around mobile content management. First up is Inkling’s CEO, Matt MacInnis, who explains how self-service technology, innovation, and security can work hand in hand.  

“Really, it’s just a few things that keep CIOs up at night: preventing Sony-style breaches, being disrupted, and staying aligned with the CEO’s agenda,” said Snehal Antani over a cup of coffee at Inkling. “That’s about it.”

I was discussing what drives the modern IT department with Snehal, who is the CIO of a division of GE. On the one hand, CIOs and IT departments must enforce a zero tolerance policy for major failures and security breaches. On the other, they must also manage an impossible list of requests for innovation and risk-taking that originate within the lines of business, or worse, the CEO, who points at shiny objects and says, “I want that.” It’s a tough balance to strike.

The story is consistent. I met late last year with a technology executive at one of the three largest retailers in the US. He, too, talked about the challenge of balancing stability with innovation in IT. “We have to roll out new technologies to stay competitive, especially in retail,” he said, “but I can’t babysit and manage the business users.” He was, of course, reaching for the utopian state of “self-service IT,” where non-technical users in the business can be self-sufficient in whatever they’re doing, rather than asking time and resources of IT.

Balancing innovation with security

Self-service technologies, provided by IT to their constituents, do open new doors to technology innovation, at least in theory. But it’s even more important than that. As SaaS applications become increasingly end-user friendly, they’re also becoming more secure. At Inkling, customers have helped us up our game on security. We’ve run an SSAE16 audit, hired multiple full-time infosec staff, and established policies and procedures to protect customer data. So, self-service utopia comes in two parts: it should provide the “shiny object” the CEO wants and alleviate risk at the same time.

A few years ago, Computerworld did a short but practical article on successfully implementing a self-service IT model. Among the recommendations, they included knowing the people you’re designing for, controlling data, and focusing the product design on business decisions, rather than a constituent’s self-described needs. Read it for yourself, but to me, they scream out for commercial-off-the-shelf solutions, rather than homegrown applications, primarily because software design for a particular task is highly specialized. It’s incredibly difficult for an in-house IT professional, no matter how good they are, to design a solution that meets these success criteria.

Putting a fragmented process back together again

That said, Inkling is often pulled into businesses through marketing, sales and HR, rather than by IT itself. The lines of business say “we want this,” and the IT folks scrunch their noses. But our CIOs learn to love us: we take a really tough problem (creating, publishing, and measuring content across devices of all types) and make it really simple for the average business user, anywhere in organization. The alternatives are expensive, tedious and difficult to do well.

For example, the retail CIO I mentioned above explained that when the lines of business want to distribute content at a conference, or develop a new way to reach customers in-store on tablets, they come to IT to build something. But his resources are limited, so the lines of business often turn to external agencies. Those agencies can’t integrate with the core IT infrastructure, however, so six months later it ends up in the CIO’s lap anyway– this time, with a huge sunk cost behind it.

As it turns out, publishing content is critical in almost every part of the business, but it’s really hard to do well. Desktop workflows with huge files, external designers and programmers, and increasingly complex logic in the content (it is, after all, just software) make it increasingly expensive for him and his team.

At Inkling, we’ve decided to double down on the utopia of the self-service content platform. We want to let ordinary people create extraordinary content experiences, and we want the IT professionals who support those business partners to be thrilled. Thrilled because we’re cheaper and more secure, the business users are driving better results without “babysitting,” and, best of all, IT is able to drive innovation across the business.

Down the golden path of self-service IT

Winning examples of self-service IT applications will come from integrated systems. They’ll tackle specific problems, draw a narrow “golden path” through the full value chain of software previously used to solve those problems, and deliver an integrated experience. Best of all, they’ll address the business need far more effectively than the status quo. Salesforce did this with CRM, Anaplan for corporate planning, and Inkling’s doing it for enterprise publishing.

Can we please shiny-object CEOs while improving security and cutting expenses? That’s the very definition of innovation. Moving away from custom software and toward better-managed SaaS applications and empowered end users: it all points to a more focused CIO organization. And a happier CEO, shiny objects and all.

[eBook] How to Securely Bring Content to Mobile

Empower business users to build and distribute their own mobile content.