If you’re like me, you are increasingly becoming reliant on online shopping to replace the more arduous task of physical in-store shopping. I find this is particularly true during the holiday season when the idea of fighting traffic and elbowing crowds to desperately search numerous shops in order to find just the right gift for Aunt Phillis (who’s just going to hate whatever she receives anyway) gives way to the more idyllic setting of web-surfing multiple stores simultaneously from the privacy of your home while the dulcet tones of Nat King Cole playing gently in the background lull you into the holiday spirit (a little spiced eggnog on the side doesn’t hurt either). But have you ever stopped to consider why you shop at some websites and not at others? Certainly item prices have something to do with it, as does the breadth of product selection. However, there is almost certainly a third element involved—one of which you may not even be consciously aware: The quality of the online store shopping experience directly impacts the likelihood that you (and other consumers) will purchase items on it. Websites that are friendly, professional, and easy to use are far more likely to produce sales than those that are confusing and difficult to navigate.
The relationship between web shopping experiences and successful sales is identical to the relationship between self-service portal experiences and user satisfaction with the delivery of enterprise IT resources. Responding to accelerating requirements for enterprise mobility and improved workforce agility, enterprises are increasingly serving applications, data, and other business IT services (including email, messaging, remote access, and database resources) to end users via on-demand outlets, such as service catalogs, enterprise app stores, externally hosted app stores, and web portals. While users are generally embracing technologies that allow them to provision their own devices, successful solution introductions and related productivity improvements are directly tied to the experiences users have with the platform. Just as with online stores, users are turned off by solutions that are complex and/or difficult to use. Dissatisfied users will often complain, or worse, perform job tasks on more easily accessible but non-standard and unsecure public applications. Any enterprise solution employed to provision resources to end users must therefore be user focused. Listed below are the most critical elements for ensuring favorable user experiences with self-service provisioning:
- Must be centralized – Users should be able to access all enterprise services from a single self-service portal. This includes access to static applications, virtual applications, containerized applications, web applications, SaaS applications, SharePoints, secure data stores, and any other public or private resources necessary for enterprise operations.
- Must be highly available – Regardless of the type of self-service portal employed, it must be continuously available from any supported device, at any time, and from any location. This means the service must be hosted on a continuously active environment (such as clustered services, grid environments, or a cloud platform) and connectivity to the service must be reliable and uninterrupted. Performance of the service (including processing, memory, disk I/O, and network performance) must also be maintained to ensure there is no noticeable delay in the resource provisioning process.
- Must be easily accessible – Ideally, the self-service provisioning portal must be accessible with a single click. However, proper security practices must still be maintained, so multifactor authentication practices must be performed invisibly to the end users. Single sign-on technologies should also be employed to minimize user interactions.
- Must be intuitive to use – Once accessed, the portal should be easy enough to navigate that no prior training or instructions are required for its use. The key to enabling this is the employment of role-based solutions that automatically present the applications, data, and services that the users are authorized to use (and only those they are authorized to use). In this way, users are simply presented with a list of resources they can provision.
- Must be flexible – Every user is different, and the self-service portal must be customized to meet each user’s individual needs. While a role-based approach will provide a standardized list of available resources to groups of users, the ability to request access to other supported resources or to request the adoption of completely new resources must also be included to ensure users have a path to accessing the exact applications, data, and services necessary to meet their unique requirements and optimize their productivity.
When enterprises create positive user experiences with self-service portals, workforces are much more likely to actively use enterprise resources that will accelerate overall business productivity. At the same time, user satisfaction with IT operations is increased. Even fussy Aunt Phillis will have trouble finding fault with the solution. Heck, she may even knit you one of her famously gaudy holiday sweaters in thanks.