“Unrecognised item in bagging area”: How far is too far for IT self-service?

By: Steve Hughes - 11/04/2012

Steve joined Colt in 2008 and has played a key role in developing Colt’s cloud and virtualisation services. He is a member of the IT Services portfolio marketing team where he is responsible for defining and introducing new services for the European market. Catch up with Steve’s latest views at http://www.twitter.com/coltandthecloud.

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Ever since the NIST definition of cloud computing was drafted and up to it reaching its 16th and final version, the first essential characteristic has always been On-demand self-service. (Where a user can provision computing capabilities, such as server time and network storage, automatically without requiring human interaction with each service provider).  Although self-service seems to be considered “a truth that is self-evident” – there is still the nagging question “is  too much self-service, self-defeating”.

I acknowledge that the parallel I am about to draw may be my own particular bête-noire, but it did make me think about the wider context of self-service . Recently within the UK, there has been a growth of self-service check-outs in supermarkets.  The customer scans their own items and places them into bags which are monitored for weight to ensure items are being scanned and subsequently paid for. The benefit to the customer? Reduced queues – as there are more self-service checkouts than manned tills. The benefit to the supermarket owner ? Only one  employee needed per six checkouts.

Now this should work fine – and sometimes it does – except for the exceptions.  Sometimes the scales don’t recognise bags placed on them; sometimes your items are too light to register; sometimes items need verification – such as alcohol or medicines. All of this is accompanied by a disembodied voice asking you to “swipe your loyalty card”; “wait for assistance”; or the chilling “unrecognised item in bagging area”.  For the customer, this does not represent a great customer experience.

But what has this to do with IT? The same point applies – how much of the self-service is actually beneficial, speeds up delivery and reduces “friction”?  And when does self-service actually just end up being a burden that the customer never asked for?

We have been working with our customers to understand the balance to be struck between self-service and managed service, since we first introduced our cloud services. And what we have learned , based on a strong steer from our customers,  is that while the consumption of IT services has to be more dynamic and flexible , service providers  must also be able to offer and support the full range of models from in-house managed, through to self-managed and service provider-managed in a seamless and controlled manner. Pushing too much responsibility back towards the end-user is not the solution. “Unexpected workload in data centre” is not a scenario we will be rushing to in a hurry.

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