The problem with the word ‘user’ is that it is loaded with historical baggage, most of it negative.
Basically, ‘users’ have never mattered much when it comes to technology design.
In the history of IT, the user has usually been an afterthought. This has gradually changed in the public, consumer space, to the point that today the customer experience is getting more and more attention.
This is not the case when it comes to the enterprise. That’s because there already is a 'customer' for enterprise software. This customer never actually uses the software that they buy. They are the senior manager — or group of senior managers — responsible for signing off on the budget for the purchase of the technology. They don’t deliberately set out to buy unusable software for their employees. It’s just that they don’t care much either way whether it’s easy to use or not.
A kind of merry, mythical dance occurs between technology vendors and senior managers, in which they talk enthusiastically about productivity and efficiency and return on investment. It’s all detailed in large fictional documents that are responses to even more fictional Requests For Proposals. It’s a surreal landscape.
A great many of the players in this surreal landscape know that they are players in a surreal landscape. But there’s nothing they feel they can do. They feel trapped. Or maybe they feel that they’re just not up to the effort required to make the change.
There is often a mutual loathing between the technology vendor and the customer. The vendor feels that the customer is clueless, that they just spew out feature lists. That, while they talk about simplicity, they will always buy the sexiest, most complex, feature rich, weighed down by as many bells and whistles thing, and latest, coolest gizmo that they can possibly find. And that they want it all at crazy low prices.
The customer feels like they’re trapped in a horrible relationship because of all that legacy stuff. They feel that whatever price they are initially given, they will ultimately pay three times more. And most of them think that it just won’t work anyway.
This corrosive atmosphere thrives because nobody cares about the ‘user.’ That’s why, of course, the ‘tester’ in most IT environments is among the lowest paid. They’re seen as essentially a failed programmer. They settle down at the bottom of the organizational totem pole with support people. These are the people who interact most with the users, so obviously they can’t be very important. But the sales and marketing people who interact with the customer, particularly the ‘potential’ customer, well they are the royalty of the old model.
The old model is well and truly broken. It may take it a while for it to be washed away by the tides of history, but washed away it surely will be, and with it the organizations that stay stuck in old model thinking.
The new model thinks about the customer as the person who uses the product or service. It relentlessly focuses on use. But it doesn’t call people who use the product users. It calls them customers. And it thinks about them as customers. Respects them as customers. Treats them as customers.