Answer

Users order up their own IT resources via self-service cloud portals

At a conference recently, I attended a session on building a cloud-based self-service portal for providing IT resources to employees. That sounds great to me. Do you have any advice for making sure it's successful? Any pitfalls we should watch for?

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Self-service cloud portals are a great way to automate the typical requests that a corporate IT help desk would handle. Activities such as resetting passwords, adding capacity to servers, restarting services and even requesting new user accounts can all be automated.

The worst thing an IT team can do in creating a self-service cloud portal is to overdo it.

In addition, there's usually no reason that an IT staff person should need to perform almost any of these standard services. Anything that can be automated should be automated.

The best way to determine what to add to an IT self-service cloud portal is by looking at the types of requests the help desk typically receives, focusing on those that are the most time-consuming.

For example, the help desk staff may receive a particular type of request only about once a month, but if that request involves a task that takes six hours or so to run, then it's a candidate for addition to the self-service cloud portal. Meanwhile, singular tasks that aren't likely to be repeated shouldn't be added to the portal.

The two most important things to keep in mind when building an IT self-service cloud portal are security and permissions. IT staff members need to make sure that employees can't access anything they shouldn't. For example, regular employees probably shouldn't have the permissions needed to add new users, but the IT staff may consider enabling those employees to troubleshoot or even reset their own accounts.

The worst thing an IT team can do in creating a self-service cloud portal is to overdo it. Avoid including every item that any employee has ever requested or assuming that the portal should include every potentially useful resource before it can be launched. In fact, the IT team won't know what's most valuable until after employees start using the portal.

For that reason, it's smart to take a minimalist approach. Include only the most in-demand tasks; omit those that are rarely or never requested. Ensure that tasks are repeatable and easily reversible.

In addition, keep a good audit trail so it's clear who changed what and when. Consider requiring users to add notes or reasons for any changes they make. For example, if managers are allowed to deactivate user accounts, require them to explain why -- and, in the meantime, limit them to locking the accounts rather than outright deleting them.

For every task added to the portal, track how much time that task took both before and after it was automated. If the audit determines that automated tasks require as much or more time as they did before, that's a sign that the portal isn't working well. After all, the idea behind the portal is saving time for everyone, not just the IT staff. By keeping metrics, IT teams can make sure they're achieving that goal -- and correct their course if they aren't.

This was first published in January 2014

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