Are End Users Too Stupid To Self-Serve Workloads?

In one of my former lives I founded a tech support team on a college campus.  Staffed with computer science students, the team was responsible for rolling out and supporting Internet and desktop computing technologies across a population of several thousand people.  As CS students, I suppose they were a bit of an elitist group.  They invariably faced users who were largely unfamiliar with these new tools, and were simply ignorant of how they worked, which generated support tickets.  When this happened, the team used a special support code to tag the incident:

Code PEBKAC = “Problem Exists Between Keyboard and Chair”

Not as often used, was:

Code ID-10-T = “Idiot”

Of course, over time they learned the technology and these smug little codes fell into disuse.

Today, I’m seeing a similar attitude with some of the IT support cultures in companies that are considering rolling out cloud technologies in their organizations. Specifically, the concept of self-service is drawing a considerable amount of snickering and eye-rolling from many an IT professional.  The idea that we would actually give a USER the ability to requisition SERVERS through a portal is laughable, and is immediately dismissed.  Why?

The reason invariably given: Users are too stupid to know when they need a server, and why, and they’d just end up creating a big mess that IT would have to clean up later.

But how much of that attitude is grounded in reality, and how much is based in the elitism which many IT organizations see being eroded by the user emancipation cloud and attending concepts like self-service bring?  I suspect the latter to be the case.

Keep in mind that “end user” is a broad term.  It could be the marketing professional needing a web site for a promotion, or a software dev who would normally have to wait months for a work order to complete before an environment is available to work in.  The point is: they are customers of the IT organization.

It can’t be denied that IT’s role in deploying workloads for the business is diminishing  Most users view the IT organization as a barrier to getting work done, not a helper.  When it can be sidestepped, it will be. Unlike those users many years ago who had never accessed the Internet before, and had never had a desktop PC all to themselves, today’s end users are computer-savvy, and self-service is something they understand from many contexts in their experience, from online shopping to subscribing to Internet services like Skype.  Doing it for workloads they need to achieve their business objectives is natural and inevitable.

So if you find yourself scoffing at the very idea that an end user should be allowed to (gasp!) self-serve and deploy their own web servers, etc., as needed, take a moment to search your soul: Is it because you REALLY don’t think they’re capable of making a good decision, or because you’re afraid they just won’t need you anymore?


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