Dysfunctional IT attitudes: users are losers
Twenty something years ago…
I approached the computer centre with trepidation – folks had told me of the eccentric misanthropes who manned it. It was unavoidable though; my research project required access to one of the powerful mainframes that were housed in the centre. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was to spend three long years performing tedious calculations in molecular dynamics as I worked towards my degree; but that’s another story.
Anyway, I finally found the senior sysadmin’s office and knocked on the door. I heard a grunt in reply, which I chose to interpret as an invitation to enter. The sysadamin, furrowed brow, fingers dancing on keyboard, was evidently engaged in deep, meaningful communication with machine. He paused typing just long enough to push a form towards me.
“Fill it. Leave it with me. You’ll have your account in two days.” Lines delivered, he resumed making eyes at his machine.
As I left his office, I noticed his whiteboard had the following written in big blue capitals:
USERS ARE LOSERS
Very appropriate, I thought. The phrase summed up his view of the people he was hired to help. In those days such an attitude was very common, so I wasn’t as annoyed as I should have been.
Flash forward to the recent past…
“There’s no need to ask our users,” he proclaimed, “we know what they want. Besides, they don’t have any apps with similar functionality right now, so anything we give them will be an improvement. “
“Your users may not think so,” I thought, but didn’t speak out – a conference dinner isn’t the best place to contradict a CIO from a well known company. I thought his peers at the table may have something to say, but if they did, they kept it to themselves.
At first I thought the gentleman was joking, but after a few minutes it was clear he wasn’t. He went on in this vein for a while, outlining his vision (nightmare?) of an application environment that was totally IT-Driven. It turned out that he had been given a carte-blanche to rationalise the IT environment in his domain, and he was about to do just that – without any user “interference”, thank you very much!
Clearly, in some circles users are still losers.
There are those in IT management who hold such heretical thoughts. They’d much rather not have to worry about meeting end-user demands and expectations. “Anyway”, the thinking goes, “it is impossible to ensure that everyone is satisfied, so why try.” So it’s no surprise that when these folks get an opportunity to take control of their application environments, they do so with complete disregard of their users’ needs.
After all that’s been said and written about the need for IT/Business Alignment and customer-focused IT, there are still those who cling to the “our users are dumb; we know best” attitude. They live in a world that deliberately shuns contact with end-users, and hence continue to develop and deliver apps that nobody wants to use. Technology may have changed the face of the world, but in this case perhaps another cliche is more appropriate: the more things change, the more they stay the same.