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Give a little love

Holding hands and stroking egos is good business

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Sysadmin blog When you unify the user experience, there's going to be fallout. Homogenising the hardware and software environments means change, and sometimes users react badly to change.

I have been ordered to roll out Office 2010 this summer, and I know I have several users who are going to hate it. Helping them through the transition is a big part of the IT department's job, because moving from a haphazard environment to a unified one can be frustrating and disorienting.

The most disorienting thing for any user is a major User Interface (UI) change. A great example of this is Microsoft’s Office suite, which underwent a major UI change between versions 2003 and 2007. It introduced the ribbon bar: some people love it, others hate it.

The order to roll out Office 2010 came with two instructions from above which can be summarised as:

1. Just do it, Trevor

2. Anyone complains, send them to me

There is a category of power mad ubernerd whose introduction to new software is “this is what you get. You will like it because the company says you will”. I hate this approach.

I will comply with my orders and roll out Office 2010. There are a few things I can do to make the lives of my users a easier. I am looking for transition-assisting products. Since Microsoft unfortunately declined to take a smooth deprecation-based approach to recent major UI and feature changes, I have to rely on third parties.

I have relied on UBit menu for Office 2007. It introduces a “tab” in Office 2007 and 2010 that provides the classic menus. It is essential for some users; even power users resort to it occasionally when they can’t find a common feature using the ribbon bar. I also default to not save in docx format, because a lot of our customers can't read docx.

Some users need more, so I go out to all our sites once a year to do maintenance. It’s a chance to check up on my servers, run cable for new workstations or phones and upgrade hardware.

It's a bigger trip than usual this year.

The first new role is a hands-on user trainer. I don’t have the opportunity to train every member of the staff, but I can sit down with anyone who is struggling with the changes. I try to have lunch with a few of them every year and listen to their complaints, real or imagined. Often users are reluctant to report IT problems back to us. Either they think we won't listen, or that it is meant to work that way. It's deplorable.

If you think your IT department will dismiss your problems, it's probably a symptom of inept past - or current - user experience management. And if you expect that computers are always slow and unreliable it is a reflection of the industry's pervasive lack of user experience management.

Proper documentation helps, especially for the things that our users are called upon to perform once a month or less. I wrote some of the code that performs these tasks, but I can't always remember how to make them work.

 It takes seconds to knock together a wiki or a Wordpress install on a corporate LAMP server, a few seconds more to take screen shots and describe them. This isn't a big company thing, and it's free. If you don't do it, the only reason is your own laziness.

Users who were used to flexibility in configuring their environments may react badly to restrictions. They're people, and so can be petty and selfish too. When you eliminate the disparities that currently exist between systems, bear in mind that the disparities may well play an important psychological role for some staff. It's good to have the best computer and the newest software. If you remove this advantage over coworkers, handle it carefully.

I explain to users one-on-one why the changes are taking place. IT can’t afford to make enemies; we are a cost centre, so we rely on the cooperation of other departments as well as management. Only an unhealthy IT department has an “us versus them” mentality.

IT exists to serve the business; the business does not exist to serve IT. Creating a friendly, easy-to-use user environment is a often ignored, but IT is about more than solving technological problems; we have to hold hands and stroke egos so that our technology is used. It saves time, grief and money compared to the alternative: deploying your changes, and waiting for the storm.

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