Human-Computer Interaction for IT Systems Management - overview
Improving Usability and Managability of IT Systems
The market for information technology (IT) services is huge - more than $500B is spent annually on IT services. The largest share of the cost of IT services is labor. Productivity improvements have been made, but they have not kept pace; computer systems keep getting faster, cheaper, and more complex, while people remain the same.
When we began working on IT Management in 2000, we found little was known about the nature and practice of IT service work as practiced in service delivery and data centers. We began to conduct studies of the human aspects of systems management and service delivery at IBM SDCs, university and government labs. Our findings provide some of the first published descriptions of IT administrators' complex technical and social environment, highlighting the tools they use (and often develop), and the myriad of service delivery practices use to accomplish their goals. We found collaboration among IT practitioners to be a critical technique to share knowledge, expertise, and awareness, compensating for their large-scale, complex, and risky environment. We also observed considerable local development of tools and practices to manage the particular needs of each site. We believe that IT costs may be reduced if appropriate mechanisms are put in place for the development, sharing, distribution, and evolution of assets such as tools, practices, and processes.
Based on our research we built several tools to improve administration work, including Autonomic Task Manager for Administrators (alphaWorks), TotalStorage Productivity Center 3.1, & 3.3 (released), and DB2 8.1 Memory Visualizer (released).
We published our research extensively - a total of 36 papers - in premier conferences such as ACM CSCW, ACM UIST, Interact, HCII, IEEE Policy, IEEE ICAC, USENIX LISA, and CHIMIT. We are also working on a book (Information Technology Work, Oxford University Press) to illustrate a variety of needs in IT management, and reflect on many creative practices that have been developed to help people cope with complex IT systems, based on examples drawn from our studies. Our publications targeted an audience including academics in technology studies, management information sciences (MIS), HCI, and other IT-related disciplines, as welll as practitioners and management in IT service delivery organizations.
Beyond our own work in this area, we made significant effort to establish an academic field of HCI of systems. Traditionally, the focus of HCI has been the usability of IT systems not on the manageability of systems, particularly from human factors perspective. To fill this gap and help to build a research community, we organized a workshop at ACM CHI 2003 (System Administrators are Users, too), panels at Human Factors and USENIX LISA conferences, and IBM Academy-sponsored conferences on computer-human interaction in IT Systems Management and Service Delivery in 2003 and 2004. As momentum built, we established the ACM CHIMIT symposium, held each year since 2007. The ACM CHIMIT Symposium is the leading forum for discussing topics on IT management with a focus on people, business, and technology. At CHIMIT, the focus is on the cognitive, social, and technical issues in managing the increasing complexity of modern Information Technology (IT) systems based on research drawing upon fields such as human-computer interaction, human factors, computer systems, and management and service sciences.