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What Do IT End Users Want?

In a growing number of organizations, IT departments are being regarded as "service providers," whose services to employees throughout the company are considered essential to realizing business goals. These services range from procuring, installing, and maintaining desktop PCs, software, Internet access, and business applications, to developing corporate intranets that enable employees to change benefits options, read company news, or share reports.

As the head of an organization providing essential services, it's important for a CIO to understand what end users throughout the enterprise want and whether they are satisfied with the services being provided. If employees fail to use technologies, precious IT resources can be wasted. As well, if employees fail to learn how to use new applications, such as compliance software or a program to help manage customer relationships, corporate performance can be slowed or compromised.

Fortunately, there are a variety of ways that CIOs can gather information about IT usage and satisfaction levels with relative ease, including internal surveys, performance tracking tools, and vendor data, particularly if there has recently been an implementation of new software or systems.

A good place to start measuring IT satisfaction is by conducting regular internal surveys -- a process that has become easier with the advent of Web-based survey tools, and vendors that will design and conduct the surveys and tabulate results. The type of survey may depend upon how much time and money a CIO is able to budget. Outside firms offer statistical analysis of results along with recommendations, but the annual costs can range from $50,000 to $250,000, according to Ron Exler, service director of the Robert Frances Group, an IT advisory firm based in Westport, Conn. An Internet or email survey done in-house will be less costly, but will require more time from IT staff to conduct. Offering an incentive, such as a drawing for a gift certificate, is a popular way to ensure a good response rate. In addition, it's important to include an option for end users to indicate their willingness to be contacted face-to-face or over the phone for a more in-depth interview, Exler said.

Surveys are a piece of the puzzle that a CIO can work with to get a good view of how the IT department is meeting the company's needs and what, if anything, needs to be improved or changed. "The best CIOs are practically in daily contact with their constituents. They know what's working on an ongoing basis," Exler said. "This is typically not an annual exercise to find out how the help desk is working, where you send out an 18-page-long survey. It's at least a quarterly survey of what is going on relative to the services that IT is providing and how IT is meeting goals."

The IT shop can also track the usage and performance of such technologies as email, the Internet, servers, and networks with an assortment of performance management tools. New performance tracking technologies can help IT personnel keep tabs on user satisfaction levels with the growing number of Web-enabled links that companies have with customers, suppliers, and partners. CIOs also need to remember these outside relationships when taking a look at end-user satisfaction.

While performance management tools are useful, CIOs may gain better insight by going directly to the end user. Even then, it's important to have a benchmark with which to compare survey results. Ask technology vendors to provide user satisfaction benchmarking information from their experience with system implementations at other companies -- broken down by industry sector, if available.

Recent information from Forrester Research can also be used for benchmarking. Asked by clients to help them understand end-user satisfaction, Forrester surveyed 2,138 technology users at companies with more than 500 employees. The technology users worked for more than 2,000 different firms in a variety of fields, including manufacturing, the public sector, and business services. In a report, issued in April, Forrester found that:

  • Desktop technologies rank high 94 percent listed desktop technology as very important at their companies. A majority were pleased with the usefulness and reliability. Half said they were dissatisfied or undecided about management's use of passwords and user IDs.
  • Help desks need help Only 38 percent said they saw the help desk as important. 70 percent turned to the help desk only once a month -- if that often. Politeness of the staff wasn't in question. Complaints included time to respond to a request, timeliness of updates, and even the level of help-desk expertise.
  • Business applications aren't the end all Overall satisfaction with business applications was reported, but complaints dealt with integration and training. Half of respondents were at firms that used custom-developed software; there were more complaints with the homegrown variety than off-the-shelf applications.
  • Company intranets are useful but hard to use 69 percent found the company intranet very important. Two-thirds of intranet users could find what they needed, but only 44 percent found it easy to do so. Human resource information was simple to locate. Many users said they would like improved search capabilities to help find management reports and project documents.
  • IT's communication efforts don't cut it Fewer than half of those surveyed were satisfied with the IT department's communication efforts. Nearly 38 percent of respondents in positions that influenced IT spending or purchasing wanted better links between their business unit and the IT shop, while 41 percent lamented the time it takes to get status updates on their issues.

CIOs should use the Forrester survey as a starting point to examine problem spots within their companies, possibly as a benchmark for their own internal surveys. "They need to find out where in the organization they are having the most trouble," said Meredith Morris, a consulting analyst at Forrester.

But what may be a problem identified in the survey may not be an issue for all firms. A CIO needs a clear picture of his or her own organization before acting. If significant dissatisfaction is found with certain IT functions, action may be warranted. "They may need to change their technology or change their processes," Morris said.

Before and after making technology changes, it's important to know what end users want, whether they are satisfied, and how technologies can best help them fulfill the company's goals.

Elizabeth Wasserman has written about technology and business for Inc., CIO Insight, and the San Jose Mercury News. She is a freelance writer based in Fairfax, Virginia.

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