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New self-help tool could save data center staffers time, money

IBM partner Datawatch recently unveiled a new tool, built on WebSphere, designed to help employees answer IT questions -- without asking IT for help.

Are your IT employees sick of spending half their day helping office staffers change their passwords, read their e-mails or explain why their laptop keeps making that beeping noise?

Lowell, Mass.-based Datawatch Corp. thinks they are, and it wants to help. The report management software company unveiled a new employee self-help tool called Visual/Productivity Portal for IBM WebSphere.

Visual/Productivity Portal is designed to enable personalized self-help for an organization's employees, cutting down on unnecessary phone calls, log entries and related processing for its data center staffers. At the end of the day, Datawatch said its customers will see a healthy return on investment (ROI) diverting resources otherwise devoted to labor-intensive telephone and e-mail support.

"The whole concept is to enable self-help so that employees find answers to their dilemmas without having to tie up the resources of help desk or the IT department," said Datawatch's channel enterprise solutions manager, Keith Lubner.

The desire for companies to enable their employees to answer many of their computing questions on their own is not a new one, said Bloor Research senior analyst Tony Lock, and it's also one that has gained steam over the past few years. Numerous organizations have products similar to Visual/Productivity Portal in development, and the reason is simple.

Done right, self-help tools save data center staffers time and -- more importantly -- money. And the ancillary benefits for IT staffers tired of solving rudimentary issues will most likely bring more than a few smiles to their faces.

"IT people will do anything to get people to stop talking to them," Lock said. "If you can get users to help themselves, it is almost certainly cheaper, and often it's quicker."

One of Visual/Productivity Portal's early adopters is Cincinnati-based Hillman Group, a provider of hardware-related products to retail markets in North America. Hillman Group, which has 2,000 employees, found its IT resources tied up because, as information services director Bill Sammons said, about 80% of the staff's time was spent solving relatively simple inquiries involving problems like password issues and e-mail snafus.

The Hillman Group decided it needed to change its strategy. It formed a service desk, moved three of its IT staffers to man it and purchased Visual/Productivity Portal to lay on top of WebSphere. Though Sammons said it's too early to decipher the product's impact on freeing up IT resources, he said he believes it's the next step in the company's evolution toward helping its employees help themselves when IT issues arise.

For the Hillman Group, Visual/Productivity Portal is a round peg for a round hole.

"This is a perfect solution to empower those users," Sammons said. "IT has always been crucial … we're here to help. But at the same time there are a lot of tasks we've been asked to do that can be done by the employee as long as they have information or know where to go."

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Luke Meredith, News Writer

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