How to take IT end users out of the email signature management equation
The inconvenient truth is that IT end users can be unpredictable and frustrating. Like any customer (IT end users are, after all, internal customers of the IT department), serving their needs is paramount but these needs can be challenging, urgent or bound up in impossible expectations.
This is made more difficult with IT team understaffing, skills shortages and other constraints impacting on time management and contributing to workplace stress.
In this post we’ll explore how email signature solutions can make for a better employee experience by removing users from email signature management while letting IT make updates easily.
What is an IT end user?
End users are users of IT services and infrastructure and are employees of the same organization, served by the same IT department. With few exceptions, the community of end users at an organization includes all its employees and vice versa. Everyone uses IT so everyone is an IT end user. The IT end user experience is a major part of their overall employee experience.
The ‘end’ prefix is employed to signify users that are at the ‘end’ of a value chain and don’t contribute to the development or delivery of IT services (i.e. they just use them). Since everyone is a user (including the head of IT and all their staff) this helps distinguish end users from – for example – administrators, super users and other roles.
End users act as customers of the IT department, and like any customers they have their own sets of requirements, preferences and expectations. But the term ‘end user’ or ‘user’ is also a technical reference point for unique profile instances within an IT system. In this way users have usernames and/or user IDs and passwords. Their access to certain applications and data stores are governed by policies and rules that are set and managed by the IT department.
What does the IT end user need to do their job?
IT is a key business enabler for organizations as a whole but also to optimize the productivity of workers.
Fundamental IT requirements for end users
Until IT has completed the initial IT set up for a user (see below), they don’t technically exist within the operational workflows of the organization. They have extremely limited capacity to produce work, communicate with other people, access shared information or know what’s going on. This is particularly pronounced when the employee is remote or hybrid working.
Arguably the most fundamental IT requirement is an email address. With an email address, users can:
Send and receive emails (ideally with professional email signatures).
Access shared files and productivity apps (for example, a Microsoft 365 email address provides access to the full Microsoft 365 environment; a Gmail address provides access to the Google Workspace suite).
Authenticate access to enterprise applications and services (i.e. using the email address as username, along with a password) managed and provided by the IT department.
Register for (and verify) access to other IT apps and services in the future.
Strategic IT objectives for end users
Some of the key strategic IT objectives for end users include:
Equipping end users with the best IT tools and environment to support their workflow.
Ensuring that end users have the requisite skills to capitalize on the organization’s strategic investments in IT.
Enabling teams of end users to communicate and collaborate quickly, efficiently and seamlessly.
Capitalizing on new technology innovations in ways that support end users.
Supporting access to data and applications all the time, from anywhere.
Facilitating hybrid workspaces.
Protecting end users and their data from cyberattacks, while also securing the rest of the organization from any cyber threat launched by or via an end user.
Providing a courteous, responsive and accountable IT help desk support function should any issues arise.
Optimizing the overall end user experience with continuously available, high performance IT services.
What end users want from IT
Over the last couple of decades there’s been a generational shift in how company employees perceive and engage with technology. Many workers 20 years ago will have been reticent or even fearful of using IT. Contrast that with the world of today where the workforce is predominantly ‘born digital’ or what business author Don Tapscott refers to as ‘grown up digital’. This makes employees active stakeholders in applying technology to support their own personal goals.
The effect is that users today wish to leverage whatever corporate IT departments can give them in order to optimize technology adoption. This is in order to:
Apply their own unique work style. Leveraging technology to work wherever and whenever they choose; balancing personal responsibilities to maximize wellbeing.
Achieve job satisfaction. Automating onerous and repetitive manual tasks to spend more time doing work that stretches and develops their skills.
Become a more successful employee. Apply technology to be more effective in their roles, achieving more in order to further their careers and elevate their personal brands.
The role of IT in the end user experience
IT professionals and teams regularly interact with end users to achieve the objectives noted above. The ways in which these interactions happen, and the value created, has a big say in the overall employee experience.
Initial IT end user set up
The relationship between IT professionals and end users typically begins during employee onboarding. This is when new starters join, and one of the crucial milestones is getting their IT set up completed. Some of the IT tasks in this process include:
Creating IT user account/s
Basic details entered into IT directory; assigning to groups
Creating and recording new email addresses, phone numbers, and other coordinates
User licensing of applications; creating logins for each
Setting appropriate access permissions
Reviewing and agreeing IT-related policies i.e. data protection, IT misuse, use of personal devices
Setting up the work environment
Configuring hardware build spec (i.e. on a laptop, phone, etc.)
Screen/keyboard setup support
This is in addition to the IT team’s supporting role in enabling other departments to complete the onboarding process. For example, setting the employee up on an e-learning platform for induction training, having employee records with HR and finance for tax and payroll purposes, etc.
Coping with IT change
Once onboarded, IT must henceforth enable employees to be as autonomous as possible in their use of technology. IT’s role is to facilitate and ideally anticipate their needs in a non-disruptive way.
Naturally, exceptions to this arise whenever change events trigger interventions from the IT department. These break down into two groups – those generated by the ebb and flow of IT projects and maintenance windows, and those generated by changes to the individual user’s circumstances.
IT departments fulfill a strategic role to help organizations exploit the opportunities around technology. IT will therefore implement projects in line with key business objectives, for example:
Bringing newly acquired business units, post merger or acquisition, onto the same technology platform
Implementing new applications or infrastructure to transform a business process
IT also has an operational workload for ‘keeping the lights on’ which entails continual maintenance and optimization. For example:
Implementing security patches to software
Upgrading data center infrastructure
Installing higher capacity network connections
End-of-life replacement of IT equipment and software
Finally, IT will drive technological change at the behest of other departments who have their own strategic mandate from business leadership. For example:
Supporting a marketing-driven rebrand of the company through changes to website assets, email signatures, intranets, etc.
Supporting a HR-driven initiative to put all employees through compulsory training (facilitated digitally) on a new piece of legislation that affects the organization
At a smaller scale, but a far higher frequency, are employee-driven IT changes. These typically originate from changes to the employee’s personal situation or job role that have a knock-on impact on their use of IT. For example:
A job promotion or reorganization that necessitates:
Changes to application access privileges and admin rights
Reconfiguration of phone/email groups
Updates to email signatures reflecting new job titles, locations, etc.
Changes to personal data such as a new married name that necessitates:
Updating directory services
Creating a new email address with redirects
Updating email signatures
Feature requests to applications
Other technology requests and suggestions such as:
New cloud subscription services
New hardware (e.g. better laptops, larger screens, improvements to conference room IT equipment)
Damage to a machine that necessitates a rapid replacement
What issues can occur between the IT department and end users?
There can be tension in the relationships between IT departments and IT end users. This is understandable given the often extreme expectations of users coming up against the ‘gatekeeping’ role that IT performs. IT cannot simply grant all requests because there are many constraints including cost, security risk and sheer lack of internal resources.
Other issues can arise because of dependencies between IT and users. The IT department and users need a shared understanding of where responsibilities lie, and what they require of one another in order to deliver the required IT services.
Users need to have realistic expectations about what IT can deliver. However this should not prevent them from articulating their needs and driving IT to continue innovating and supporting them. Maintaining the right expectations relies upon positive, honest and open communications between users and IT. Users must ultimately take responsibility for setting realistic and achievable expectations, but IT has a key role to play in managing and shaping those expectations over time.
Assumptions and miscommunications
Both parties in the IT department / IT user relationship are guilty of relying on assumptions. This is why IT teams are so proactive in documenting policies that users must sign to attest that they understand. Some of the common assumptions made by users about IT include:
All data being backed up so that everything is retrievable should they accidentally delete files
All systems being secure so that there are no consequences if the user inadvertently introduces malware or other cyber exploits
IT’s sole job being to service the needs of IT users
IT departments can also make assumptions about end users that turn out to be unreliable. These include:
Assuming that the only IT applications and services that employees will use in the course of their work are visible to and approved by the IT department
Assuming that users who have signed user policies will act upon them
Miscommunications can also occur, which places the onus on IT departments to be very clear about the service they provide and the impact upon users of any planned IT changes.
Relying on non-IT people to perform IT admin
IT departments exist to deploy IT-specific skills and resources on behalf of the business. However, that doesn’t exclude end users from playing an important role in the IT function.
In some organizations, users are required to support the safe operation of IT by:
Installing their own software updates
Administering their preferred application workflows
Setting up data folders and access privileges to certain data
Adding or removing users from software application licenses
Managing changes to their own email signatures
Where it’s been introduced, automation has alleviated many of these instances of non-IT people undertaking IT tasks. For example, through patch management systems. Many IT departments can also call upon ‘remote control’ systems like TeamViewer to obtain control over remote machines – very useful in the context of remote and hybrid workspaces – or simply use unified communications and collaboration platforms for screen sharing and co-browsing i.e. in respect of IT settings options.
How IT can improve the employee experience
The purpose of IT departments is to allow organizations to obtain maximum strategic value from technology. The idea is to benefit the organization’s strategic goals, but these are closely linked to benefiting the employee experience too.
This is because organizations benefit when their employees are equipped and empowered; when the utilization of their time is optimized around high-value rather than low-value activities.
Satisfying end user IT demands and expectations
Users gain the best employee experience when their IT expectations are satisfied. This leads in turn to a number of important advantages for both the users themselves and the organization as a whole:
Included and embraced
A good approach to IT will prevent employees from feeling isolated – very important in remote and hybrid workplaces – and allow them to work and live with greater flexibility. It will also arm each user with the power to express themselves, produce great work and communicate effectively with others.
Highly productive and successful
Employees are happier when they are unburdened by the frustrations of inefficient tools and processes. They want to be more productive by applying technologies rather than simply by working longer hours. This allows them to accomplish personal achievements, develop a more successful career and contribute to shared goals. This is a win-win for organizations.
Attract and retain top talent
Employees are increasingly drawn to organizations that support their aspirations from an IT perspective. Providing a progressive IT environment is key to attracting and retaining employees and reducing staff churn.
In particular, younger employees are more attracted to businesses that allow them to use their own choice of hardware and software (within reason) and to customize their own working environment.
No recourse to ‘shadow IT’
Employees who lack confidence in their IT departments to satisfy their needs will often embrace a path of ‘shadow IT’ – using tools that IT has not sanctioned and has no visibility of. Instances of shadow IT typically happen when:
The provided toolset is sub-optimal
Alternative IT tools are easier to use and provide a better user experience
The IT department is too slow to respond to requirements
Examples of shadow IT in the last 10–15 years include:
Users deploying Wi-Fi routers because IT would not
Users taking out software subscriptions to unsanctioned apps
Users storing data in free cloud storage files because these are easier to share and collaborate on
Users developing and testing applications using on-demand cloud computing resources rather than wait months for data center infrastructure to be built
Alleviating unnecessary IT burdens
The average employee is unqualified to conduct IT admin tasks. These tasks create unnecessary risk of human error as well as taking that employee away from their core duties.
However, these situations have often arisen because IT departments cannot stretch to complete all IT tasks and so call upon users to undertake relatively simple tasks through necessity.
So, while it is helpful to the employee experience to alleviate any IT burdens, it remains imperative to ensure that this workload is not simply pushed back onto IT. The only workable solution for satisfying both ends is to centralize and automate processes, such as in the case of email signature management.
The role of email signature management in the end user experience
As noted throughout this post, email signatures crop up time and time again as an important element in the workload of IT departments and users. It begins with the creation of user accounts and continues throughout the employee lifecycle. A succession of change events – including the desire of marketing and other stakeholders to promote more signature-based campaigns, data collection and interactive functionality – makes email signatures almost organic and subject to continual evolution.
IT users are not best placed to manage their email signatures
The theory goes – in many businesses – that users should be capable of administering their own email signatures. After all, email signatures are particular to each user and closely associated with basic email account settings (like, for example, out of office responder emails).
In reality end users are often not that interested in their email signatures. Every person has a different interpretation of how to use email signature templates, and differing skills to make that happen. IT has to then manage this process, picking up the pieces when users transparently fail to do so correctly.
The dangers of getting email signatures wrong
Email signatures are important to get right, else there would be no point in using them. And there are some unfortunate consequences when they aren’t. For example:
An inaccurate email signature (i.e. one that contains incorrect or out of date information) can create problems when customers or other recipients rely on that information
A poorly designed or rendered email signature reflects badly on the organization and fails to express its brand
Email signatures that are inconsistent across employees of the same organization give the appearance of disarray and miss out on the advantages of promoting a consistent brand experience
Email signatures that fail to include the full and up to date legal disclaimer, relevant to its sender and their jurisdiction, can potentially open the organization up to litigation and other legal problems
Taking IT end users out of the equation through centralized email signature management
Email signature management software makes it easier for IT to ensure the accuracy and consistency of email signatures while relieving end users from the responsibility of keeping theirs maintained.
And rather than simply consuming all that extra workload multiplied across hundreds or possibly thousands of employees, the centralized nature of a platform like Exclaimer means IT departments can concentrate their effort. Single changes can be implemented in just a few keystrokes, while individual-level updates to personal data are straightforward and painless.
Other labor-saving features of the Exclaimer approach include:
A choice of server-side and client-side configurations to get signatures on all devices and/or enable users to see their signature templates within emails they’re sending. Choose one or combine these two methods together.
Apply different signature designs based on type of recipient (e.g. external or internal) or even according to recipient email address or domain name. You can even assign different signature templates to certain users and departments.
Add extra additional elements such as company logos, social media icons, promotional banners, email disclaimers and corporate headshots via a simple drag and drop editor.
There’s still the capacity to securely ‘outsource’ control of certain email signature management elements to non-IT staff, but this is fully in the gift of IT personnel to control as they wish. For example, delegating control of professional email signature management templates to marketing leaders, or allowing users to update their personal details into a database that the email signature management platform can use to complete fields in the email signature template.