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IT Innovation: Don’t Forget the End User

" I know engineers. They love to change things."
- Leonard McCoy (Star Trek: The Motion Picture)

I’ve been watching the Vista debacle from a safe distance since Microsoft is looking to use application virtualization software from its purchase of Kidaro to address some issues there. The knock of course is that in developing Vista, Microsoft fixed a lot of things that weren’t broken. Ah yes, the impulse to tinker.

The whole thing got me thinking about Tony Picardi’s interesting research on the software complexity crisis when he was at IDC years ago. It also got me thinking about what I’ll call “the problem of innovation that exceeds the bounds of rational use” and how that works to create a new level of complexity that now haunts a lot of the IT landscape and frequently makes hapless end users into unhappy campers.

So when does innovation become excessive, unwanted, or unneeded? There are plenty of examples in other markets. Does the world really need a five-blade shaving razor? Don’t think so and (earth-shattering disclosure), I’m still using a mere two blades and haven’t been kicked out of any high-end Boston dining establishments yet. And how about those new traffic lights that came out a few years ago that you couldn’t actually see because of the glare?

Don’t get me wrong, innovation is what drives our industry. But here’s what I don’t get. There are human factors engineering people working in the auto industry and in many SIC code sectors and industries. Their job is simple and straightforward: make things work with the end user’s needs in mind. But somehow, when it comes to IT and telecom,  runaway innovation often trips up otherwise savvy vendors in their tracks and usability often gets the short end of the product development stick.

I applaud Apple’s efforts to try and change this with the iPhone. They clearly get it. And Google, the Wal-Mart of Cloud Computing, has, it must be admitted, made great strides in making applications easlier to use and has hired many user experience advocates over the last several years. (Actually, this is kind of a “must have” for its offerings given the fact of little or no access to any real tech support.) And maybe – just maybe – hosted desktop virtualization will be done in such a way to actually improve the end user experience (and not just the IT manager experience.) Let’s hope so. But it still remains one of the industry’s biggest and most underestimated challenges.

What are your thoughts about innovation tripping up the end user experience? Weigh in here or fire off an email.

Posted by Tom Valovic on 08/11/2008 at 12:49 PM


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