End Users: Should We Put Them In Padded Cells?

If you're an I&O professional, what comes to mind when you say "end user"? If you're like most of us, your mind has a conjured-up impression of a cosmically clueless person who actually gave you a hard time once, and the picture is now your mind's own avatar for everyone you support. It's not usually a positive image, is it? I used to picture a middle-aged, BMW-driving executive with his hair parted on one side wearing an LL Bean sweater, probably an Ivy-league grad, who couldn't be bothered to actually take responsibility for his own personal computing destiny…he always had servants to take care of trivialities…and hence he was ruining my day with his incompetence. Let's call him Ascot Rothschild III.

An image like that is a powerful thing, and the painful memory of this individual's willful, arrogant ignorance then pervades our future thinking about what we're up against when we set IT policy like BYOC. Ascot becomes the poster child - in our minds anyway - for every garden-variety corporate doofus that we'll have to deal with if we give people any more rope than we already do. They also give us plenty of reasons to take more rope away. In my case, I used to sit on a helpdesk for Remedy customers, and my team had a collection of "special" customers we wondered how they managed to get dressed and find their car keys in the morning. As I later designed Remedy and Peregrine applications, I did so with these "edge cases" in mind.

In other words, we tend to calibrate our thinking and design infrastructures for the worst case scenarios. We gear our decisions and prioritize our spending toward those who are least likely to truly benefit from the investment, in the hope that they won't run into trouble and bother us. It's a peculiar thing really, because it causes us to spend most of our time thinking about problem avoidance and not enough on opportunity creation. Worse…our understanding of these people and their true needs is usually dead wrong.

The interactions with the people we support paint a skewed picture. We hear from people when things aren't going well, and they're probably at their worst. We don't get to see the real Ascot Rothschild III, father of 2 beautiful kids, and loving husband who paid his own way through college, and discovered oil reserves for your company last year worth $500M. These details are lost, along with our willingness to think about what he needs to find the next $500M opportunity. It may be better to dispense with the term "end user" altogether and use the term "internal customer" instead.

So I would like to lay down a challenge to you: As you execute your plans for your BYOC and client virtualization initiatives in 2012, and make critical decisions, such as whether to lock down desktops or not - which Ascot Rothschild III do you really know? Which potential are you designing your infrastructure for: the potential for problems or the potential for innovation and out-sized business results? Can you achieve both? I'd love to hear from those of you who have.