Holding office hours for your end users

I was at the Tableau Software annual user conference in Seattle this week, and one takeaway was an idea that I heard from one of the presenters about holding “office hours” to support your end users. It is an old idea that may be worth revisiting.

Back when I toiled in the IT end user computing fields for Megalith Insurance, we had several staff for our own phone-based hotline to support the insurance agents around the country. That was great for them, because we couldn’t really make house calls. But we had several thousand users in our three office towers in downtown Los Angeles that were only an elevator ride away. These folks had to call us when they were in need or distress and wait for us to get to their offices. We never really thought about holding office hours where the users could drop in, frankly because we didn’t want them to know where we worked. Maybe there was some other reason, I was never quite sure. It was probably because back then we had mainframe programmers in abundance, and no one ever ventured into their holy of holies offices either.

But that was then. Today we all work in bullpens and people bring their bikes and dogs into work. And there are a lot of end-user oriented tools besides spreadsheets and word processors.

And when it comes to a visualization tool such as Tableau, seeing is literally believing. Having a steady hand and someone who knows their way around the interface can make a big difference in speeding up the learning curve for a newbie.

At the Tableau conference, I spoke to Krystal St. Julien, a data analyst with eCommerce retailer ModCloth.com. She comes from a academic biomedical research background, which is why she calls what she offers “office hours.” Only instead of students waiting outside her office door, she schedules her time with Google Calendar. It is working well for her, not just on an efficiency level but on a user empowerment level too. She helps her users over learning speed bumps and gets an entire team up and running with Tableau in record time. (An interesting side note: all of her data analysis department are women, with the exception of the boss. Some lesson to be learned there, too.)

Maybe it is time we bring back this concept into wider use. Who knows, it could help some IT shops over their image problems.

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