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Maybe you’re familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, in which psychologist Abraham Maslow theorized that human motivation is driven by the need to fulfill our needs at each of five layers. The first, or bottom, layer concerns our physiological needs such as air, food, water, clothing, and shelter, to name a few. The remaining layers deal with secondary or higher-level needs such as safety, social belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. If our physiological needs, our most fundamental of all needs are not met, the remaining four layers are irrelevant. I encourage you to learn more about Maslow’s hierarchy by searching on the Internet.

Crawley’s Hierarchy of IT Needs

I created Crawley’s Hierarchy of IT Needs to help prioritize IT services within an organization. It’s a theory and I welcome your comments.

The Usefulness Layer

The bottom, or most fundamental, layer is the Usefulness Layer. Before we begin a project, write code, or implement a service, we have to ask if what we are about to do is useful. Will it solve a human problem? If it will not solve a human problem, then you should ask yourself why you’re doing it.

The Physical Layer

Crawley's Hierarchy of IT NeedsThe next layer, second from the bottom, is the Physical Layer. Much the same as the physical layer in the OSI reference model, this layer deals with whether the application, the service, or the device actually works. When you turn it on, does it do what is expected, and is it reliable? Will it do the same thing over and over again without failing? If it doesn’t work, then the upper layers don’t matter.

The Understandability Layer

Third from the bottom is the Understandability Layer. This layer deals with whether an end-user can understand how to use the application, service, or device. Is it easily understood by the people who will need to use it and is it designed in such a way that an end-user can’t mess it up? If the user can’t understand it, he or she probably won’t use it.

The Transparency Layer

Next is the Transparency Layer. The Transparency Layer concerns the invisibility of IT to the end-user. In the same way that a driver doesn’t need to understand fuel mixture ratios and compression in order to drive a car, an end-user should be able to simply perform her or his job without giving the underlying IT systems any thought. Self-driving cars will be an example of technology operating at the transparent layer.

The Anticipation Layer

The top layer is the Anticipation Layer. In the anticipation layer, artificial intelligence is used to anticipate the needs of the end-user. In this layer, systems and applications provide services to the user before the user is even aware of the need for the service. In a perfect implementation of the Anticipation Layer, the system provides the service to the end-users before they realize they need it and it’s done transparently, so the end-users are not even aware of it.

Like Maslow’s Hierarchy, Crawley’s Hierarchy is purely theoretical. I designed it to make you think about priorities when designing systems, when upgrading systems, and when interacting with end-users.

Whether you’re a help desk staffer, a DBA, or a systems architect, Crawley’s Hierarchy of IT Needs should make you think about the systems you design or support and their relevance to the end-user, and help you prioritize projects, based on fulfilling a need and working for the ultimate customer, your end-user.

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