You wouldn't think it from the way they get treated, but there's still no doubt about it: ultimately, it's the user who is the most influential person in shaping IT.
Even though users are rarely consulted about what they want from IT and then largely ignored or misunderstood when anyone finally does pay any attention, they always manage to assert their authority in the end. Technologists will always do their level best to design the perfectly flawless system, but sooner or later they have to hand it over to end users. That's the moment when all the techies' best-laid plans start going awry, as users embark on their quest to adapt the system to meet their real-world needs.
Throwing the manual to one side, users will immediately start probing the new system for short cuts and workarounds. When they want to add extra fields to the database, they'll overlay their own system of codes on the existing data structure, making the data unintelligible to anyone not aware of their private metadata system. When they need integration to other applications that come along, they'll improvise swivelware processes and sneakernets, inventing their own private systems for re-entering information from one system to another.
That's if you're lucky.
If they can't adapt it to the way they need to work, they simply won't bother using it. They can always get the job done some other way, maybe using their discretionary spending limits to sneak non-standard systems and applications into their workgroup. They know that, sooner or later, someone from on high will notice no one's using the old system and it'll quietly get junked.
That's how users assert their influence. Not by making noisy demands or dictatorial ultimatums, but simply by doing the best they can to get on with their jobs. In the fulness of time, the choices they make feed back into IT spending decisions and product development, and the state of the art inches almost imperceptibly closer to the kind of systems and applications that users actually need. You couldn't devise a less efficient feedback mechanism if you tried. But it's the one that, above all others, truly determines the shape of IT.
Our IT Shapers:
- Richard Stallman: The most hated man in cyberspace
- Barrett Lyon: Internet Influencer
- Dan'l Lewin: Leading Microsoft Emerging Business Development
- Kevin Lynch: Making the Rich Internet Application a reality
- George Boole: On the shoulders of genius
- Howard Rheingold about our mobile world
- Tom Anderson: The man behind MySpace
- Users always have the final say