The joy of data entry: why self-service applications are such a big deal

IT loves self-service, end-users love self-service, everyone loves self-service. But why?

I always thought self-service applications are one of the great ironies of the information age. Consider it from a consumer point of view: companies are turning over their data-entry grunt work to be performed by their customers, who pay for the privilege.

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Photo: Joe McKendrick

No problem, everybody loves self-service, and wants more of it -- be it someone buying an insurance policy, or an employee pulling down an analytics report. That's less data-entry grunt work that IT departments need to worry about. So, IT is happy, end-users are happy, and the enterprise is happy. You can't argue with that.

So what makes end-users so happy about doing their own data entry and configuration work? Ever stop to think about that? There's actually a real psychology behind self-service.

Gartner even views the self-service movement as a "power shift" from IT to the business, predicting that by next year, most business users and analysts in organizations will have access to self-service tools to prepare data for analysis. "Self-service data integration will do for traditional IT-centric data integration what data discovery platforms have done for traditional IT-centric BI -- reduce the significant time and complexity users face in preparing their data for analysis and shift much of the activity from IT to the business user to better support governed data discovery," according to Gartner analyst Rita Sallam.

Keith Smith, co-founder and CEO at Payability, recently delved into the motivations and benefits behind self-service in a post at UXmatters, and explains his observations. He points to a Viewsbank survey that showed "65 percent of people, regardless of their generation, have positive feelings for companies that let consumers get answers to questions or solve problems on their own." To be sure, just as many employees share such feelings toward employers that provider self-service IT.

It's all about the movement to greater automation, Smith points out. While Smith's points are more about B2C situations, they are just as applicable to internal enterprise services. Here is why self-service is such a win-win for everyone concerned:

The 'DIY (Do-It-Yourself) appeal' of automation: Today's employees and consumers have either grown up with technology or have learned to incorporate it into their daily lives. It's a feeling of liberation to not have to rely on someone to get what you need.

Increased selection: With self-service software, options, products, links, reports, or whatever they may be can also be listed on a single Web page or app screen. Add personalization elements, and you have the information an end-user needs at a single glance.

Improved functionality: These days, many key functions may be available within a single app, Web screen or dashboard. No need for an end-user to jump around between different applications. E-commerce apps, for example, handle everything from price comparisons to payments, Smith illustrates.

Reduced friction: "An automated system can provide information or process transactions almost instantly," Smith says. The result is faster and more convenient interactions.

More useful assistance: For consumers, "shopping online is often a more personalized experience than in-store shopping," with assistance readily available, any time of day or night. This applies to employees in a big way, too. Those working late at night will have automated assistance available as they require it, versus having to wait until the next morning to call IT.