There was a time when knowing the number of people inside an IT organization using the IT System was a very important metric, but now today, whilst still an important , the concept of ‘counting users’ has now shifted to a much wider understanding inside corporate IT.
This post explores why I believe this to be so.
I cant recall exactly when but certainly since the arrival of the ‘Personal Computing Device’ – under many derivatives from VDU, Terminal, Workstation, PC, notebook – knowing how many devices or units that were deployed on a network was a significant requirement.
Primarily driven by the sheer cost of the early hard wired ‘terminal workstations’ and the expensive cabling routed back to the mainframe/minicomputer environment, the IT organization just had to know where and who had access. But of course ‘technology access’ was the domain of only a few.
As we fast forward during the mid 80s and early 90s we saw costs of components reduced dramatically over time and the explosion of desktop PCs and laptops, and emerging client server technology meant that offices became flooded with cheap wiring infrastructure, which in turn drove a much wider distribution of compute power to the end user. Users became more widespread and the counting conundrum began in earnest as devices appeared on everyone’s desk. In these days maintaining lists of users and devices fell easily into the IT organization and quite often became a simple In/Out exercise for an IT administrative person.
Of course software running on these devices didn’t really create many issues given the still limited scope of local software available and the engine room nature of mainframe and mini based business workhorse applications. But then we had the ‘software’ explosion – almost overnight and the introduction of increasingly complex licensing EULAs which meant the IT organization now had to count devices, users and licenses. Suddenly it became more complicated. Mechanisms were needed to control either how many licenses were deployed or being accessed concurrently. Each software vendor approached this characteristic of the IT service in different ways which slowly created another exponential burden of counting even more ‘users’ and started to challenge the once simple question. ‘how many users do I really have again?”. Remember software dongles?
Procurement and purchasing people were now entering the fray as this complexity of licensing became a skill that often out-foxed the IT organization. Certainly large enterprise organizations began moving purchasing decisions out of the IT domain as they sought value for money and competitiveness too often lacking when the IT organization held the keys so to speak.
So now we had momentum and a new set of people responsible for ‘counting users’. And don’t forget the ‘number of users’ still drove IT procurement cycles for refresh, still drove sizing servers, storage, network pipes and datacenters and controlled the ratio of IT personnel to end users. Our industry settled on many ways of measuring the size of an IT infrastructure entirely based on the user count which for many large enterprises often became exceptionally complicated and ultimately marginalised once virtualization spiralled into our vocabulary and understanding.
Back in the IT organization, and running alongside the more fragmented landscape of the modern IT organization, we had the shift to treating the devices as configuration items or CIs driven by commitments to become more ‘mature’ under the governance of ITIL and ITSM strategies. Depending on the maturity of the IT organization to not only control the configuration asset, but now the procurement process coupled with even more new ‘counters’ of the devices such as HR and Security, the ‘counting users’ conundrum now moved up a significant notch. And significant it was. Because the need for better automation of on boarding of new personnel, automation of device build and distribution of software, control of access rights and the end of life exit processes for leavers all increased pressure on the ‘user count’.
with now not only IT, Procurement, HR, Payroll, Facilities and Security departments with a stake in ‘counting users’ for a whole host of reasons the paradox hit home that ‘in the thirst to standardise and rationalise the IT function a new ‘elephant in the room’ entered under the guise of ‘exactly how many users do we now actually have’.
And as if this wasn’t enough we had the nuance of remote working, offline working, working on the road and working with ‘partners’ and ‘associates’ all added a wave of ‘users’ that whilst may not have been on the payroll needed to be ‘counted’ for a wide variety of reasons to maintain governance and compliance, and to provide a level of IT service management for experience, performance and availability.
Phew and I’ve not really got to cloud, Bring your own, Self Service Application Stores, and social networking.
So one more fast forward to today and the ‘counting of users’ mercilessly marches on as we now have services being accessed in hybrid fashion between all manner of clouds, from all manner of corporate and personal devices and by all manner of people, all with an increasingly growing stake in collaboration inside and outside the modern organization. Imagine how a large global IT organization is now ‘counting users’. Or even a medium sized business. And even a small business. Who now knows ‘how many users’ there are? Guaranteed that there will be host of different answers given all the ‘owners’ of the list causing all manner of challenges for licence shortfall, location of corporate assets, loss of intellectual property to non corporate assets, and so on.
So to finally nail the ‘counting users’ coffin we introduce the ‘Diversity Challenge’ of user characteristics referring to the different buckets of Baby Boomers, Millennials, Generation X and Y, which add a further layer of complexity of ‘counting users’ given Age, Workplace, Hours and Social influences.
And please don’t get me started on the emergence of Augmented Reality, Internet of Things, Machine to Machine and Wearable Computing.
Still think ‘counting users’ is still a valid measurement for IT organizational ( business change ) decisions?