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Avoiding the 'rogue power user' problem

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Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Reg reader workshop The question of how to manage power users' use, misuse, and abuse of access to corporate data through powerful reporting, query and desktop productivity tools was the topic of the latest Reg Workshop discussion (here).

A whole range of issues have been raised by readers, from keeping track of what users are doing, though the potential business risks associated with untested and inconsistent DIY solutions, to the distraction and overhead that informal developments represent to both end users and the IT department.

We have a good range of comments from IT professionals, some of our favourite snippets being:

"Everyone thinks they need to know everything about everything. But clearly they don't."

"The 'power users' are frequently too embarrassed to admit that they either don't know what they are doing"

"[Excel spreadsheets used to run the business] that have never been even reviewed by someone other than the person who wrote them, let alone properly tested"

But the power users themselves aren't taking this lying down. These snippets come from the case for the defence:

"IT produces duds mostly, and given a chance, end users will generally simply reproduce the same numbers with less effort"

"...requests for help [from IT] are generally greeted with a cost quote and an absurd timescale for delivering anything"

And a particularly insightful comment from one reader gets right to the root of the problem:

"If an organisation is having problems with 'power users', it generally indicates a larger problem in corporate management and governance"

This same reader goes on to outline three measures that can help those struggling with resolving the requirements of power users with the need to control costs and risks:

  1. Use monitoring tools to limit "unauthorised" use of resources. This is fairly straight-forward. Most data bases have tools that allow restriction of resource by user or group, both static (restricting the amount of work space allowed for intermediate answers in a query) and dynamic (monitoring the progress of a query in real-time and cutting it off when it exceeds a set of thresholds). This allows even "casual" users access to various data sources via ODBC or other "free-form" tools, but limits their impact (and time wasted) to manageable limits.
  2. Provide a "liaison" resource for each group that has a business requirement to access warehouse data. It is amazing how much this simple addition can do to both limit users abuse of resources AND provide real business benefit for the group. This "liaison" person is the "power user" for the group; however, they are cross-allocated to the DW support team and have responsibility for being both the advocate and enforcement for their group. Use of the "liaison" person gets the majority of casual users back at their desks rather than playing with tools and code; and it provides a focal point for getting ideas discussed with other liaison members and DW support.
  3. Provide the users with tools and data that match their business needs. This is the major "sticker" in most organisations...and the reason that BPR is such a lucrative profession to be in. Many of the problems outlined in are, as noted, due to data no longer being relevant to their business functions. It is rare that organisations truly explore the impact that a business process change makes in their data requirements.

We thought these sounded eminently sensible, but we'd be interested in what everyone else makes of them, so it would be great if you could take literally less than two minutes to give us your views in the little poll below. We'll report back on the results soon.

QUICK POLL

This poll is now closed. View the results.

To what degree do you use monitoring tools to limit 'unauthorised' use of resources by power users?

  • Already a standard part of the way we work
  • Something we do partially but need to do more
  • Not something we do a lot of, but a good idea
  • Something we have tried without much success
  • Not really relevant or practical in our environment
  • Unsure

To what degree do you provide a 'liaison' resource for each group that has a business requirement to access data?

  • Already a standard part of the way we work
  • Something we do partially but need to do more
  • Not something we do a lot of, but a good idea
  • Something we have tried without much success
  • Not really relevant or practical in our environment
  • Unsure

To what degree do you proactively assess information access requirements (beyond prescriptive reporting) and make sure users have the tools and data that match their business needs?

  • Already a standard part of the way we work
  • Something we do partially but need to do more
  • Not something we do a lot of, but a good idea
  • Something we have tried without much success
  • Not really relevant or practical in our environment
  • Unsure

Do you have any general thoughts or advice in this area?

How large is your organisation?

  • Less than 10 employees
  • 10 to 49 employees
  • 50 to 249 employees
  • 250 to 4,999 employees
  • 5,000 to 24,999 employees
  • More than 25,000 employees

This poll is now closed. View the results.

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