'No IT' technologies empower business users, improve productivity

Self-service tools that can be deployed without IT's assistance are changing the relationship between IT pros and end users, to their mutual benefit.

In the never-ending quest to cut corporate costs, the benefits of "no IT" technologies are becoming more sought-after than ever before.

Scot PetersenScot Petersen

Cloud computing and consumerization tools are empowering business users to be their own IT guys, so to speak, thereby improving workplace productivity through better content management and more efficient use of computing resources -- to the benefit of both users and IT.

Software vendor SimplyBox has done that with its inContext apps (no relation to the name of this column). The apps, which SimplyBox calls "fragments," are a kind of mashup for bridging applications that could work better together -- for instance, LinkedIn, Salesforce.com, Twitter and Gmail. "This is not about integration," said co-founder and CEO Mario Cavagnari. "It's not about … rigid approaches, moving data, synchronizing data, mapping users and all of that. We don't do any of that. What we do is allow people to get the information they need in the context they need without having to move data."

A case in point: SimplyBox's Salesforce inContext for LinkedIn software enables sales and marketing users to set up the bridge themselves and work between the two applications seamlessly -- without requiring IT's help.

Keeping in touch on sales

Paul Schiffman, a regional vice president of sales for educational software provider Blackboard Inc.'s Blackboard Collaborate product line, uses the inContext tool to more easily update sales leads in Salesforce from his LinkedIn contacts.

"In LinkedIn, I have a gazillion contacts," Schiffman said. "In Salesforce, unless you're touching the information, it becomes kind of stagnant. LinkedIn is a lot more fluid because people are updating their own stuff. So, in terms of connections being current, that's kind of a neat benefit to it, because [SimplyBox] helps to automatically update things in Salesforce that are happening in real time."

And no IT help was needed for the setup? "No. I mean, it's a couple clicks," he said. "Trust me: If I can do it, I think anybody can do it. I would never [call] IT for something like that, and if I had to, I probably wouldn't use it."

Schiffman brings up an interesting point. Sometimes users don't want IT assistance because it gets in the way of them doing their jobs more effectively. Said Cavagnari: "Salespeople are the ones that tend to be the biggest consumers of Salesforce. But they tend to not like CRM [systems] because they feel that they're being watched and it's just a mechanism for their bosses to keep an eye on them."

DIY high-performance computing

A more traditional IT and user relationship at pharmaceuticals giant Johnson & Johnson also turned out to be a self-service win for both parties. J&J runs high-performance computing (HPC) applications to model drug development and simulate clinical trials in order to speed the release of drugs to the public. Getting through clinical trials more quickly can help extend the lives of patients, explained Kurt Prenger, an IT senior analyst at Johnson & Johnson, during a presentation at the Amazon Web Services (AWS) re:Invent conference in New York late last year.

Prenger said, however, that his "scientific business partners" within Johnson & Johnson suffered from disparate systems and a lack of available resources for efficiently managing the simulations, requiring IT to be "heavily involved." So, Johnson & Johnson partnered with Cycle Computing, an HPC software vendor that uses the AWS cloud platform, to enable the scientists to spin up cloud services in a self-service manner.

Cycle Computing CEO Jason Stowe told me at last week's AWS Summit in New York that the Johnson & Johnson project is an example of IT proactively reaching out to provide technology to end users so they can do more for themselves.

The users aren't the only beneficiaries, though. "This has been great for the HPC team at Johnson, as well as the business partners we have been supporting," Taylor Hamilton, a high-performance and cloud computing senior analyst at Johnson and Johnson, said during the re:Invent presentation. "And we can draw a pretty clear line between the work that we do and the people that we affect and the lives that we help out."

'No IT' not the demise of IT

User self-service and "no IT" technologies will become big for businesses, but that doesn't mean the end of the IT department. What it means is getting more value out of IT investments through increased collaboration, according to Gartner Inc. Research Vice President Brian Prentice, who predicts that by 2015 35% of overall technology spending will be done by business units, outside of IT's control.

"We're not predicting the demise of the IT department. We're highlighting what CIOs have been asking for, for a long time: business and IT alignment," Prentice said in an interview with SearchCIO last year. "What's happening is that people are understanding the value of digitization, the value of information [and] the value of analysis of that information, and they are understanding it within the context of their job. Within their domain expertise, they are significantly more empowered to get these things done than the IT people who understand the technology but maybe not necessarily the domain within which the [technology] operates. So, the IT department is in a position of having to adapt and change, and to work collaboratively with the business to allow the business to be able to bring to the table what they do best."

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