A few weeks back I was talking with one of the pioneers in the outsourcing industry. He told me a story that demonstrates how far both end-user technology and IT management have come. Forty years ago, he said, he wrote a contract for IT support on his manual typewriter. The contract was all of six pages long. This simple document drafted on low-tech equipment outlined a relationship that was renewed time and again for 25 years.\n\nIf you fast-forward to 2007 and consider the level of complexity most CIOs face in selecting, managing and supporting information technology for their prime clients\u2014the employees\u2014it\u2019s almost enough to make you yearn for the days of Underwoods and six-page scope documents.USERS For more about user relations and shadow IT, read Time to Rethink Your Relationship with End Users and Users Who Know Too Much and the CIOs Who Fear Them.\nEver since the PC ushered in the era of decentralized computing and its attendant complexity, many IT organizations have taken it on the chin for their perceived lack of responsiveness to user needs. In some cases, the knock against IT was deserved: The IT support function simply was not staffed by enough people with the appropriate skills to meet the expanding needs of employees as technology increasingly became an integral part of their jobs.\nThis trend has only accelerated in the last few years. In a recently conducted study of 243 North American organizations, Unisys found that soaring technology complexities have made it difficult for even the best companies to provide highly efficient and effective employee IT support services. Today, services groups support far more people whose jobs depend on technology devices, many more devices per person, more software applications on those devices, and more servers from which users obtain information and email access\u2014all while having to deal with many more hardware and software vendors than last year, let alone 40 years ago.\n Even when a company standardizes its hardware and software\u2014such as requiring hundreds of salespeople to use the same laptop and applications\u2014over time the software \u201cimage\u201d will vary significantly from machine to machine as users load other applications they need. And when the software varies, it creates challenges and wastes time for the support staff. \nToday, many employees use technologies that were first adopted in the consumer space\u2014graphical user interfaces, instant messaging, cell phones and personal digital assistants, to name a few. This \u201cconsumerization\u201d of technology poses management challenges for CIOs: Users increasingly demand that company-issued technology be as easy to use and feature-rich as the technology they can purchase at most retail outlets. Just over one-third of the organizations we surveyed (35 percent) allow their employees to use company-issued devices for both personal and business use. The risk is that, when personal applications begin to merge onto company technology, security and support problems can multiply.\n\nWhat can a CIO to do to gain control? Come down hard and enforce across-the-board support policies that ban employees from using personal technologies for company use and vice versa? We think that such a policy is hardly possible to enforce today. We also believe it\u2019s not optimal, because the productivity of nearly every employee now depends on information technology. This is especially true for the employees who generate revenue or keep customers happy every day: sales, customer service, field service and other workers. If they don\u2019t have the technology and the support levels they need to excel at their jobs, not only is company productivity at risk\u2014company market share and reputation are at risk as well. \nFor those reasons, autocratic approaches to fixing the end-user services problem are not the way to go. This challenge requires a different, focused approach based on the best practices we observed in our research for managing employee IT support. Those who follow this approach can turn their end-user services departments from reactive technology troubleshooters to business process improvers who substantially boost the growth and customer satisfaction capabilities of their organization\u2019s key employees. \n\nThe Money Pit\nThe support budgets of most of the large organizations that we surveyed have grown significantly in the past five years. Since 2001, almost half the organizations (47 percent) increased their employee IT support services budget by as much as 50 percent and some 10 percent more than doubled it.\nRecognizing that technology complexity, and the cost of supporting that complexity, will only continue to increase, many companies have adopted the rigid, standardized approach to technologies\u2014forcing all employees to adhere to company-approved hardware and software. These organizations feel that the way to reduce mounting support complexities is to dramatically reduce the number of technology \u201cimages\u201d in the organization and tolerate no or few exceptions. \nThis approach fails for two reasons. First, employees have many alternatives today and can easily get around stringent policies. Second, denying key users the non-company-standard technology they need can curb their effectiveness and erode organizational performance. It contributes to misaligning technology and business priorities, and hinders competitive advantage in the marketplace.\nTailoring Support Strategies\nWhat should CIOs do to address this growing challenge? From our research, we suggest that organizations must decide where to take a more standardized approach to employee IT support and where they need to be more flexible. For certain, we must provide better support to the end users who have greater daily impact on the revenue, market share and reputation of the enterprise. \n\nI suggest you always consider three criteria in selecting those users:\n\nThe economic value of the function. That is, its impact on the company\u2019s ability to generate revenue on a daily basis. This is why such customer-facing functions as sales and customer service\u2014and to a lesser extent marketing\u2014should be near or at the top of every organization\u2019s support chart, along with revenue-collecting activities such as accounts receivable. \nThe function\u2019s reliance on real-time information and technology. The more the performance of a set of users relies on having up-to-the-minute information, the more critical IT support is to organizational success. A field sales force for a product line and pricing that don\u2019t change frequently isn\u2019t as reliant on technology as a field sales force that must download new prices and products every day to get customers to buy.\nThe importance of the specific task being accomplished through technology. A worker whose IT resources go down in trying to process a customer order is far more important for the support group than a worker trying to make online updates to her 401-K contribution. \n\nThe Unisys research found that the successful performance of a company\u2019s IT support function correlates strongly to the adoption of such a tiered approach. We identified a group of companies in our survey as \u201csupport leaders\u201d\u2014those whose representatives believed they were providing highly effective IT support\u2014and compared their responses to those of the \u201csupport laggards,\u201d who felt they were struggling to address the support challenge. This comparison revealed that leaders were more than twice as likely as laggards (46 percent to 21 percent) to consider tailoring support to specific constituencies\u2019 needs a high priority.\nFurthermore, the users benefiting from targeted support differed dramatically between the two groups. Leaders were more than twice as likely than laggards to provide high support levels to their customer service function; nearly four times more likely to provide high support to sales and R&D; and far more likely to provide high support levels to marketing (a function for which none of the laggards provided high support). In other words, leaders are much more focused on helping employees who are intimately linked to generating revenue.\nUnderwriters Laboratories (UL) Inc. and the City of Chicago provide good examples of such support tailoring. UL, a $680 million nonprofit product testing and certification company based in Northbrook, Ill., has two levels of support that are based largely on the impact of internal business functions to overall organizational success and their reliance on technology. The functions with highest business impact\u2014and, thus, receiving priority support service\u2014are customer service and field service. The City of Chicago recently moved from one to two tiers of end-user support. First-tier users\u2014those in revenue-collecting functions\u2014benefit from a four-hour response time, while second-tier users (those in non-revenue collecting functions) get a 24-hour response time.\n\nThe New Frontier: Fixing Business Problems\nTailoring support to specific user segments is, indeed, helping organizations become less autocratic in their attempts to combat technology complexity and the rising cost of employee IT support. But it\u2019s really only part of the equation. Our research found that support leaders go beyond simply providing quicker response to first-tier users when problems arise, and actually provide specialized productivity improvement assistance to users on the revenue \u201cfront lines.\u201d By using remote diagnostics technology, online user training and Web portals to shift problem support from the field to a central location, leaders could reduce support costs while freeing up field support resources to focus less on fixing technology problems and more on fixing business process problems\u2014especially those of the users with the greatest impact on the company\u2019s revenues.\nThe nonprofit group AARP, for example, moved from a \u201c high-touch \u201d service structure to an outsourced centralized support model. The organization left a small support staff in the field that has helped managers and workers get comfortable with remote support. They are the eyes and ears of the support organization for qualitatively assessing service satisfaction. Likewise, the City of Minneapolis has shifted many of its IT employees away from fixing broken technologies to roles in which they could help city employees improve the way they did their jobs. For instance, the IT function recently implemented video technology around the city so that the city\u2019s police force could watch the video in their cars before they arrived on the scene and know in advance what had happened. And, at STMicroelectronics, a $9 billion global semiconductor manufacturer, IT executives told us that the focus of their discussions with end-users has shifted from \u201cI can\u2019t get my work done\u201d to \u201cHow can I be more efficient and effective?\u201d\nThe preceding examples contain lessons we can all learn from and apply, just as the story of my friend the pioneer does. I asked him during that conversation how he was able to map a relationship that lasted 25 years on just six pages. His reply was simple: The CEO asked him to do what made business sense and make sure the document reflected that trust. \nThe research we cite here suggests a similarly common-sense approach: Providing prioritized support just makes business sense, and we need to trust ourselves to do what is best for employees, as we do for our customers and our organization\u2019s reputation in the marketplace. By doing so, we can all gain newfound respect from users by making a fundamental and important shift: from technical troubleshooters to trusted business support partners. \nJoe Hogan is vice president, Strategic Outsourcing Programs at Unisys Corporation, which provides IT services to businesses and governments worldwide. To reach Joe, e-mail him at email@example.com.