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This article is part of our Essential Guide: How to achieve application performance improvement in ops

IT's application support model depends on everyone outside IT

IT wants to reduce application outages, boost performance and make users more productive. The best way to achieve these goals is to welcome outsiders onto the app support team.

In many organizations, IT service management lacks user and business consultation. A successful application support model must go beyond IT.

DevOps has succeeded as an application support model in part because it caters to user experience. The feedback loop between IT operations, developers and users must be as short as possible, but processes must fall below the business's established risk threshold as well.

Application owners have a role to play

Every key business application requires at least one advocate, but the application support model changes from one to another. Some specialty applications need dedicated owners who understand the product well and who know who to contact internally or externally for help. Others, such as those for more common tasks, need superusers who not only know the product well but also have the drive to improve it and will provide the IT team with feedback.

Feedback should be constructive, simple to follow and encouraged in company culture -- easier said than done.

These team members take some application support responsibilities off of IT. They can answer the easier questions from other users, as well as lend their understanding and expertise to troubleshooting and change management. They contribute directly to business performance improvement and outage reduction through involvement in update commits and setting changes. App owners and superusers should test out changes first and have direct access to the IT staff members who manage, change and develop the application, rather than go through the help desk.

IT administrators, app owners and superusers should be in an easy-to-find list. Users can know who to contact about application issues or questions, and the list also aids the help desk staff who have front-line application support roles.

Benefits of feedback

Feedback should be constructive, simple to follow and encouraged in company culture -- easier said than done. To reach that feedback goal, start with key applications or processes, and grow at a rate that users and IT staff can accommodate.

Organizations have numerous methods to collect feedback, such as email, forms and help desk incident requests. Choose a method for your application support model where the user can give feedback easily and recipients can respond just as easily. If users submit feedback and never get a response, they won't be motivated to comment in the future.

Some feedback is impossible to act upon, but most users would rather hear "no" with an explanation -- even if they don't like the answer -- than receive no reply at all. For actionable feedback, improvements demonstrate to the business that IT can adapt and change. Inversely, feedback can lend business justification to IT's change requests that get held up by resource limits.

Don't just make changes indiscriminately when responding to feedback. Just because a few users want Comic Sans as their default font doesn't mean that it should apply to the rest of the business. Where standardization makes sense, enforce it. Where it doesn't, leave flexibility in the app support model to let users customize their experience.

Automation in the right places

Not everything can, or should, be automated, but sloughing off user error and tediousness from processes benefits everyone in app support. For example, barcode readers automate asset management and lead to more accurate records. Staff are more likely to keep the assets in an application stack up to date because a machine now reads the eye-straining ID number and submits it accurately to the designated system.

IT must speak regularly with business leaders to identify which processes and procedures can be automated. IT cannot expect the organization's user base to ask about automating procedures; often, they are unaware of the possibilities. Users might also resist automation out of fear of being replaced by a robot, but as with the barcode reader example above, someone must still oversee and even do a lot of the work.

There are other ways to improve the application support model and IT service management overall. Look for opportunities that fit the business's and application users' needs, and implement ones that have the biggest effect.

This was last published in April 2018

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