Giving Users What They Want?

I am known to continuously request that solutions are made FOR USERS and focus on business benefits and not technology. That can be understood in different ways and I want to enlighten you in the following.

I recently had to discuss that one of our long-term customers decided to cancel a project in which Papyrus Clients were used in our Classic Desktop (pre-EYE) to create fairly complex business documents. Because they are heavy Papyrus users in other areas they wanted to use the same here. We spent quite some time and money (in our usual cooperative way without charging the customer) to fine-tune the desktop and Papyrus Client to the wishes of the endusers – these were simple: MAKE IT WORK LIKE MS-WORD. Obviously I asked the question: WHICH VERSION? But the users did not mean that but rather to make it as easy to use as MS-Word. Well actually MS-Word is not easy to use at all. No Microsoft product is. Try any Apple product to see the difference. But users are referring to what they are used to as easy. Word is easy to use if you load up a tempate, type in a little text and print. Finito! Every idiot can do it. Try just little bit more and it ends to be easy. But users do not want to understand that.

‘I really want a car that performs like a Ferrari, drives like a Beetle and uses hardly any fuel!’ Sure Sir, obviously. We specialize in giving people what they want. What these users get is a plastic shell looking like a Ferrari, has a Fiat Cinquecento engine, a video windscreen that shows a racetrack being driven. Illusion is everything. Users buy flippy, fancy GUIs with dumbed down functionality. When a little later they find that it does not perform as requested they demand that it be improved, upgraded, fixed OR ELSE!

All that is very understandable and I stick with my recommendation that the user is king and we are to serve him with unwavering loyalty. But there are limits. When my King User asks me to do things that will harm him in the long run or are outright silly or ignorant and I then have to later stand for it and explain myself, then I can either hammer sense into these user’s heads or I will turn on my heel and head out the door.

We do recommend that generic reusable views are used throughout an enterprise that users switching from one application to another do not need more training. That makes it a bit more difficult in the beginning but also makes the application more broadly usable over time. We did recommend that the business would look at our new Papyrus-Eye GUI to see how much more configurable that is, but that was rejected. There is something FISHY in the state of Denmark, Hamlet said and I know now how he feels. This is not about usability, it is about technology control and money – COMPANY POLITICS.

In this special case, the business users put so much pressure on IT to DUMB DOWN usability of the letter assembly function that they decided to hardcode the user interface, the version control, the letter assembly and the workflow in Java and then call our Papyrus Client to assemble the letter. Well, I could be proud that we have still outdone Microsoft on the front-end, but all I can see is some Java coding freaks thinking they can do it better. Once again it is not the user that is being served. It will take a couple of years to create a hardwired application from beginning to finish and we will have to make a hardcoded Java API work that will haunt us for ever. I am against it, but then – the customer is always right. We will deliver … as always. But don’t be surprised if I turn on my heel and head out the door …

I am the founder and Chief Technology Officer of Papyrus Software, a medium size software company offering solutions in communications and process management around the globe. I am also the owner and CEO of MJP Racing, a motorsports company focused on Rallycross or RX, a form of circuit racing on mixed surfaces that has been around for 40 years. I hold 8 national and international championship titles in RX. My team participates in the World Championship along Petter Solberg, Sebastian Loeb and Ken Block.

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2 comments on “Giving Users What They Want?
  1. Freddie van Rijswijk says:

    Well I hope you will not head out the door for a while, we need people with strong believes and vision to make some steps forward.

    So this customer is either using AWT (would really be stupid), Swing (complex like hell) or SWT (IBM GUI toolkit for eclipse) but whatever they choose besides a lot of coding, difficulties in getting it deployed and run on the different machines they will certainly not being able to respond to changing business requirements.

    And what they never will be able to do is making the application work OFF-LINE (remote users) or let it run in a WEBBROWSER using the Internet.

    So, my advice.. be patient and let it go. You cannot help people that will not be helped. Time will tell who had the best advise..

    Keep on with the good work.


  2. Max Pucher says:

    Thanks for the kind words. I do know that the solution I am offering is in most cases superior – at least in the long run. But long-term quality and savings are difficult to argument. ‘Heading out the door’ can mean different things. A) I won’t offer a solution to the customer if I can’t stand for it; B) I go and do something else. B is a clear consequence once too many A situations arise. I don’t mind to preach a little, but so many people in IT are ignorant that like in the dark ages people act out of fear and not based on their knowledge. We have not yet reached the age of Enlightenment in IT. That will be the subject in my next blog entry. Thanks again.


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Max J. Pucher

Max J. Pucher - Chief Architect ISIS Papyrus Software

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by Max J. Pucher. All rights reserved.
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