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June 19, 2011

CIOs, Systems Designers: Users Have to Have More Say…

by AlanSBPerkins

Long gone are the days when software implementers could foist arcane or cumbersome software onto users. While some businesses still develop specific vertical products for all sorts of business purposes, the reality is a vast number of systems can be replaced by generic tools that feel natural and extend the utility of the typical user in ways that are almost impossible to foresee without witnessing crowd action. Synergies will emerge when a system is ubiquitously adopted across specialisations, across functions. Perhaps people will be able to react more quickly to emerging trends, perhaps knowledge is more easily accessed, perhaps the customer experience is so greatly enhanced that they evangelise and become disciples.

One thing we have learned from the emergence of social media tools is that building applications inside or around frameworks like Facebook, Chatter, Twitter etc have remarkable spin offs that are difficult to predict.

When software is arcane or cumbersome, the entry curve is difficult and typically a few people emerge as the system experts, and others go to them for assistance. These people enjoy their expert status as they are in a position of power – they are able to make excuses for poor response times, they are able to hold the company to ransom. End users are disempowered, heck most of the company is disempowered. Contrast this to the almost inexplicable uptake of tools like Salesforce Chatter, where company after company report 40% reduction in email, wide adoption from the grass roots and greater control over business exigencies at all levels of management. Observe how many business have arisen in the Facebook ecosystem to do all sorts of things. The value people now place on virtual flowers and seeds is nothing sort of astonishing.

If companies want to be truly successful in this new world, their systems need to be so open, so generic, so inviting, that all team members, partners and customers can access them in ways that allow them to explore how to eke benefits that the designers haven’t thought of.

Designers and Implementers in the past were like bus drivers: getting people on board and then taking them to a given destination, perhaps not even known to some passengers. Today they need to be come like traffic police, or perhaps guides or coaches that facilitate the movement down whatever roads the users want to follow. Who knows what they might find?

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