Making your IT self-service portal great

May 26 · 7 min read

Quite often the primary driver for providing an IT self-service portal is to reduce the number of direct contacts to the support desk, enabling them to deliver on the more complex and time-consuming issues. Cost and efficiency savings will typically be the focus when implementing and delivering IT self-service, but this can result in systems that are built from an IT perspective with little thought given to the user experience. Too often in IT we give users what we think they need rather than what they actually need.

Expectations of digital services are being set outside of the workplace, but how many of us can say that we offer slick, easy-to-use IT services to our employees? By providing a really good IT self-service portal, we can give users access to 24/7 support and make it easier and much more convenient for them to interact with us. An IT self-service portal should include request and incident tracking for greater transparency, a request catalog, and access to a knowledge base to provide empowered self-help.

Nowadays many of our customers are confident technology users and in fact would prefer to resolve their own issues at a time and place that is convenient for them. A slick IT self-service portal offering is a great way of making our employees’ day job a little easier and will not only provide efficiencies and cost savings but also improve their experience.

However, implementing an IT self-service portal is not simply a technology project. In order to deliver that great employee experience, we must make sure we focus on the benefits to them rather than the benefits to IT. This means involving them in the design and development and continual improvement.

Early engagement

Making sure your IT self-service portal meets and exceeds the needs and expectations of your employees is a surefire way of making sure that they come back again and again. People are busy and they’ll use the quickest route to find a solution, so it’s important to invest time and resources into making your IT self-service portal easy to find and easy-to-use.

Engage users early in the requirements gathering—you need to find out what they need, want, and expect from the portal. User requirements workshops can help identify what information they want access to, what notifications they wish to receive, how they might want to interact with you as the service provider, etc. Ultimately, it’s essential to understand how the IT self-service portal can make their lives easier, increase their productivity, and improve their experience of IT.

It can be beneficial to identify a group of users who can act as early adopters to support and facilitate the requirements gathering and design stages. These super users can help you carry out evaluation and testing as well as act as champions to support and advocate the benefits of the IT self-service portal.

Focus on usability

Many people prefer self-service to other forms of support but only if it’s easy to find and easy-to-use. Start with an obvious question—do your employees know where the portal is and how to access it? If people cannot find it, they cannot use it, so make sure that you signpost it in as many places as possible. Include it in email signatures and provide links from the internal web pages. Ensure it has a user-friendly URL, and encourage your support teams and service desk to promote and direct people to the portal.

To make your IT self-service portal easy-to-use, you must include good search functionality and make the search bar prominent on the home page. It’s also important to invest time in ensuring that all content is searchable—knowledge articles should be categorized and have meaningful titles and keywords that follow consistent naming standards. Make sure your search functionality is tested by the end user and not just those involved in delivering the technology—this kind of user testing can often throw up surprising results.

Nowadays people expect a multi-channel experience, and they’re going to expect to be able to access your IT self-service portal from mobile and tablet devices. Make sure that whatever platform you’re using provides a responsive design across mobile technologies and that your interface is standardized across all of the channels. If your portal isn’t mobile-friendly, it won’t provide that great user experience that enables people to work on the go, and therefore it is less likely to get used.

And finally, don’t forget about accessibility—your IT self-service portal should be accessible by everyone who needs to use it.

Continual improvement

The IT self-service portal will need continual development to ensure it continues to meet the ever-changing needs of your organization. It’s worth ensuring that there is a process or road map for continual improvement of your portal.

  • Regularly seek user feedback: Running feedback workshops and customer satisfaction surveys can help ensure that you’re keeping up-to-date with changing needs and requirements and can provide a wealth of data for improvement activities. Take time to ask the people using the system what is and isn’t working for them, and build in regular review meetings with key stakeholders.
  • Review your customer feedback and complaints and compliments data: This can help identify issues with the portal (and processes that sit behind the portal) early before they cause too much negative impact.
  • Review your service performance data: Again, this can help identify issues with the portal and the processes. Service performance data can be particularly useful at identifying bottlenecks or overly complex processes.
  • Build in processes for managing knowledge: Keeping content up-to-date is absolutely essential. There’s nothing worse than taking the time to search a knowledge base only to find out-of-date content that doesn’t help you solve your issue.

The IT self-service portal should provide employees with useful, relevant, and up-to-date content that is easy to find and easy-to-use. In order to deliver this, your portal will need constant development and upkeep.


Whether you’re building a new IT self-service portal from the ground up or reviewing your existing system, here are three proactive steps that you can take to help you deliver a great IT self-service portal and improve the user experience.

  • Early engagement: At the start of the implementation or review, set up a group that comprises a broad range of users, making sure you include people from all areas of the organization. Use this group to identify requirements and help you understand what a good self-service experience looks like, defining the benefits from a user perspective rather than an IT perspective. It can be beneficial to bring in user research expertise to support these activities, but remember the key to success is early engagement.
  • Focus on usability: Make sure you include a strong focus on user usability. Use your early adopters to carry out full end-to-end testing, including functionality such as searches and accessibility. Again, it’s essential to use as broad a range of users as possible from across the various elements of the organization. Think about the navigation and how users will interact with the system—if your users require training to use the portal, then you haven’t delivered a good self-service experience.
  • Continual improvement: Make sure you build in continual improvements and processes to ensure that knowledge and content is fresh and up-to-date. Make sure that you constantly seek out and review user feedback. Find out what the most popular search terms are and use this to promote specific content. Data from feedback surveys, user groups, complaints, and compliments can all provide useful insights and help identify improvement activities and initiatives.


Success is typically delivered by people, not process and technology. Many IT self-service portals do not deliver a great user experience because they’re driven by the benefits to IT rather than the benefits to the employee. Invest time in understanding what users need, want, and expect from a self-service experience. A really good self-service portal will empower your users, enabling them to work more efficiently and effectively at a time and in a way that suits them. Engage with your users right from the start, and use their insights, experiences, and expectations to drive your self-service strategy to ensure you deliver the seamless experience, capabilities, and functionality that they experience using digital services outside of the workforce.

- Sally Bogg Head of Live Services, NHS Digital

About the author

Sally Bogg, Head of Live Services, NHS Digital

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