Years ago, in a land far, far away, lived a king. He was a good king, and his wealth and power increased. He had lions, tigers, and bears. He had three Ohmys. He had wives and servants, fine food and drink, beautiful clothes and pictures. But his prize treasure was a magnificent golden throne. All the other kings envied him and lusted after his wealth. One day he learned that a neighboring tribe was going to raid his village. He sent his wives and servants off into the jungle, buried all his gold and silver, and, as a final precaution, hid his magnificent golden throne in the attic. Sure enough, during the night, the raiders came. They captured his wives and servants, stole all his animals (even the Ohmys), dug up his gold and silver, but they never found the magnificent golden throne. Later that evening, while the king slept, the throne crashed through his ceiling and crushed the king to death.
So what does all this have to do with technology? Absolutely nothing, but you're still reading; aren't you? We are in the midst of an unprecedented growth of technology. But will it be a boon or a burden? That will depend greatly on us, not on the technology. All the things that make up technology - computers, phones, faxes, modems, and the Internet - are only tools. The most important part of any computer system is the user.
What part should the user play in technology? Won't the computer gurus make all of the big decisions? One of the biggest parts users can play is by evaluating changes in relation to their job and their responsibilities. Over the past six or eight years, our system has undergone many major changes. Almost all of the changes occurred because one of the users had a need. One of the biggest things the folks discovered was to bring problems and needs to my attention. They didn't have to be computer related, just a need. Then, I had a chance to say "sure, we could help you do that," or "no, that isn't something a computer can help you solve, but have you considered ...?" Any success that we've had here is not due to me, or to the system, programs, or printers. It is due to the users.
You won't just find end users lined up outside your office, though (at least I hope they're not lined up outside your office). You need to lay down the groundwork before you can make them your partners. One of the first things I did was to change the name tag on my door. At first it said something like information manager, but I changed it to read technology personal trainer. That's the guy who makes you unwillingly do all those exercises that make you feel better afterward. I did lots of old-fashioned MBWA (Management By Walking Around), and I always tried to be honest. If someone had a problem that could be fixed with a procedural change instead of new technology, I told that person that. When we did introduce something new, I made sure that the users got a realistic estimate of how disruptive the change would be, what the timeline was, what their part would be, and why we were making the change. It took a lot of time, but it sure paid off over the long run.
When we introduced standards, I made sure that users had some input. I explained why we were standardizing and outlined how we would handle special needs. I made sure that they understood that there would be regular cycles of upgrades, that the same old folks wouldn't be getting all the new stuff, and that there would be a reasonable method to how upgrades were scheduled. I also encouraged them to tell me about any problems the upgrade would cause. Usually, a minor schedule change took care of the objections.
We all work to keep this thing we've created vital and valued. But all the stuff - the neat technology and the great new opportunities - are only Ohmys. Without the users, we are like that fabled king stowing thrones.
James Richardson may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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