Information Technology Management with a Purpose

Jan 2 2012   8:15AM GMT

The enigmatic end user

S R Balasubramanian Profile: S R Balasubramanian

When we develop and introduce systems, we need people to use them — the end users. We have always been told to win them over, so as to receive their cooperation and to take our systems ashore. I have spent a lifetime trying to understand them; but they (the end users) have been an enigma. I have tried all tricks in the book but have not succeeded in wooing them enough. I would smile at them, wish them in the morning and at the end of the day, greet them on their birthdays, take them out for a drink and dinner and would even applaud their unimpressive work. Though I had learnt to deal with the Board members and CEOs, I never could conquer this last frontier – the abominable end-user.

Profiling of end users

I had initiated a research to understand this segment of humans but couldn’t get very far. I will submit my thesis some day but for now I will share the profiling of end users that I have drawn based on my experiences with them. The user types are based on their behavioral pattern:

1. Users who oppose due to force of habit: There is a class of users who are generally unhappy with the world. They have problems with the company’s vision and mission statements, the work style, and ways of the world. A new system therefore sounds very alien to them. Befriending them is a losing proposition as you will have to stay put listening to their woes but they would not oblige you in return.

2. Those who bargain for a new printer or PC replacement: Very clever users these, who clearly set a precondition suggesting that they need a printer or that their old PC needs a replacement. Even if you inform them of these not being due for replacement as per company policies or practice, they wouldn’t budge and expect you to find a way out. When you think you have struck a bargain, they would come up with additional demands for their PA or an assistant. This battle has never been won.

3. Ideas have to originate from them: These users have very ripe minds and may have attended a course or two on breakthrough thinking or innovation. All ideas put to them are not palatable as their mind factory is busy thinking of new ideas. All your suggestions therefore hit a wall and bounce back at you. In fact, after such experiences, I had often felt like going through a counseling session myself.

4. Dislike for anything desi: We have heard of the ‘phoren’ craze. Such people go head over heels to acquire something that is imported and take pride in showing off their possessions to mark their status in the society. Similar are these users to whom in-house solutions appeal little and they always look for help from large IT service companies, and are also fans of the outsourcing model. When they move around with other professionals in the industry, they proudly announce their moves and stake a claim of being pioneers. May God save them!

5. Opinions of their spouses and children matter: It is not uncommon to find users who have their spouses working in an IT company, with a service provider or in the IT department of an end user company. Recommend whatever you may, but it is the ideas expressed by their spouses/ children that matter. Spouses/ children often speak from their own context and what has worked for them may or may not be suitable, but the user is always steadfast in his stand and can’t let down his own people at home. Poor fellow, his dilemma is understandable.

6. Have a friend or relative as a vendor: This vested interest is generally not apparent on the surface; but a sustained line of his thinking is often discernible. The end user of course will be unhappy with the technology you have chosen, the hardware/software bought or the service provider appointed. Even if we bulldoze and get through the first stage, we face hurdles at every step with complaints pouring in on every issue and the user would want a replacement. The hidden agenda then gets clearer but in the absence of evidence, the matter is put to rest.

7. One-upmanship: Some users are very smart; some of them are from premier management institutes and some are those who have worked with blue chip companies. You may not be listened to; but will have to sit and hear them out on what they think are the best practices and how IT is run in X, Y, and Z companies. Your passionate explanation of the proposed solution and possible outcomes get intelligently deflected and you come back bruised and battered.

The end-user story therefore is very significant and needs adequate thought and care. I am not talking of organization politics here; but of great characters that loom large in our work environment. We give the issue various names such as user resistance, user involvement, change management, empowerment etc., but the battle still remains unconquered. As someone said, human behavior study is still an imperfect science.

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