Are You Being Served … ?

23 07 2009

In the third blog post written by IWMW 2009 plenary speakers David Harrison and Joe Nichols ask “Are You Being Served … ?“.


No this is not a post about a cat! It’s an introduction to some thinking that Joe Nicholls and I have been articulating over the past couple of years which has culminated in the presentation that Joe will be leading you through on Wednesday morning.

It all started with a blog post which I wrote back in 2007 entitled Information Services 2.0, the debate then was about whether disruptive technologies would sound the death-knell of the central IT Services department. There are are a few links on this re-posting of the original that might be of interest – a certain Brian Kelly was the ring-master of this debate … what changes I hear you say! I argued then, as I do still strongly now that you can’t use the term ‘disruptive technologies’ in the enterprise if you want to effect cultural change and business process improvement through use of Web 2.0 technologies, a point I returned to again quite recently in a post entitled Emergent Enterprise (and disruptive technologies). So that’s the background, where’s this thinking taking us?

In our presentation we will show how central services, not just IT Services but any service function within a University or indeed within any enterprise, need to re-evaluate what their role and function is, or should be, in a world where the pace of change is far quicker outside the enterprise than it ever can hope to be inside the enterprise. What is the role of the central services function? Is it to provide corporate services – or are these now commodities that can be consumed from the cloud? Is it to provide a packaged solution to the desktop – or are the users now ahead of the service in knowing what their requirements are? Does the role of the central IT service just collapse down into one of being the guardian of the corporate information store – or is there an alternative, extremely challenging but yet potentially exciting new world out there?

It is our contention that we need to re-address the balance between the technology that the IT Service provides and the education package (usually called training – and the use of that term in itself speaks volumes of how we perceive it’s place in our service offering) that is offered to our users – usually as an adjunct to the corporate service offering.

A number of threads thus emerge – some of which I intend to return to in later postings. The most important of these in many ways is the process of actively engaging in requirements gathering. What is it that users of technology actually want? [By the way using the term “users” becomes quite acceptable now as they are “users of technology” as apposed to being users of our services when we truly put in them in the category of customers, or consumers.]

To do this requires that we actively and passionately pursue a strategy of partnership with the community of technology users; we need to much more fully understand what it is that they want to do; how they might go about doing it; and then assist them in determining the most appropriate technology to achieve their objectives.

From this, the approach becomes one of enablement rather than provision. We are there to assist the user in getting maximum benefit from the technology they employ to achieve their objectives – not to tell them how to use this corporate offering or the other one! It’s a subtle but real change in emphasis. We must move into the space of supporting users wherever they happen technologically to be, whatever the tools they are using, not servicing users.

To move from a service focus (in our traditional central IT Service view of the word service) to an enablement focus requires some courage, requires us to throw away some of the comfort blanket of technology provision we love so much, and requires us to focus clearly on education as opposed to training.

The threads and themes that stream from this are ones such as “appropriate use”, “keeping yourself safe”, “digital identity” and perhaps most importantly from the enterprise’s point of view – the distinction between corporate information and private information and how they are handled in the world of Enterprise 2.0. The ideas associated with governance become central here and that is something Joe and I intend to now focus upon.


David Harrison is Assistant Director of Information Services at Cardiff University with responsibility for Strategy and Engagement. He had previously been a Director and a Head of Service at two other universities. He is also a past-Chair of the Universities and Colleges Information Systems Association (UCISA) and CEO of Welsh Networking.

He has an interest in how emergent technologies from external providers (especially Web 2.0 tools) can be accommodated within traditional service delivery models but more especially he is interested in the cultural change agenda that needs to be considered in ensuring successful implementation and take-up of new technologies. In this, the role of enablement and education become of paramount importance, as does the concept of partnership working both within and outside the enterprise.

Doctor Joe Nicholls is a Principal Consultant in the Strategy and Enablement Group; part of the Information Services Directorate at Cardiff University. He has over 20 years experience in Higher Education, with a background in Psychology, Human-Computer Interaction, Learning Technologies and Web related services. His current work focuses on identifying technologies and methodologies that can be employed to improve the awareness, access to, and use of University services. He is particularly interested in the process of gathering and managing service requirements, the educational role of service providers and the potential of enterprise architecture as an approach to enabling organisational change.

David and Joe will be giving the plenary talk entitled “Servicing ‘Core’ and ‘Chore’: A framework for understanding a Modern IT Working Environment“.

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