- Digital Resources
Users' IT Quality Network
Pattern number within this pattern set:92
Competitive software suppliers need demanding customers who can articulate sophisticated user requirements for the software they use in their daily work. However, it takes people from different professions to articulate requirements that serve both the employees, the (co)owners, and the customers of tomorrow. If the contact between the end-users and the people who purchase their software is too loose, then the purchasing personnel only get their information from the dominant software suppliers of today.
The competition between suppliers of communication services is different from that between suppliers of physical goods, since what the former deliver is not just a platform for communication, but the access to service providers and to other users who have already invested in that platform. Other economic forces tend to further decrease competition in the software market. This makes it even more important to support the articulation of end-user quality demands.
An example of an emerging Users' IT quality network is the UsersAward network which was initiated in 1997 by a group of trade union activists and researchers who wanted to address the problem of expensive and centralistic workplace IT systems. Many such planning and control systems had become a bureaucratic hindrance for both employees and employers in Swedish firms. In 2002, the project, which by then engaged a consortium of researchers from four universities, had developed a quality certification method and demonstrated its viability by certifying two software packages in Sweden.
The Users' Award network is open for employees who want to take part in efforts to raise the quality of software for use in the workplace. The network arranges User Conferences where Exemplary software is showcased and discussed. It initiates periodic User surveys to gain hard facts about user preferences and user satisfaction with the major software services in the marketplace. A yearly Users' IT Prize contest has been held since the year 2000. Since 2002 the User Certified 2002 certificat has been issued to software suppliers who have passed the certification process developed by the research consortium which is an important part of the network. See image below.
The former software design manager at Apple, HP, and UNext sums up his design philosophy in the epigraph of his book Things that make us Smart : "People Propose, Science Studies, Technology Conforms." This is a sharp criticism of what Norman claims to be the dominant division of roles today, that industry proposes, science studies, and consumers conform. The critique is elaborated in the book The Invisible Computer where Norman argues that 1) the typical computer user the last ten years has been a person with substantial technical expertise, 2) that, due to the fast dissemination of IT services, the typical user in the coming years will be a person without technical expertise, 3) that this will force a fundamental reorientation upon the hardware and software industries, bringing policies of user orientation to the fore.
Donald Normans analysis has been one of the inspirations for the UsersAward initiative. In the quote above, Norman identifies three social institutions as key actors in the overall process of innovation. We want to point out a fourth crucial actor, "the media", or three divisions of it to be more exact. Thus, the following social forces interact in complex ways to support the articulation of problems and solutions, an ongoing articulation process that could be further institutionalised in User-driven software labelling, (as it already has been for computer hardware):
- User groups complain about recurrent software problems and point out alternatives,
- popular media inform the general public about complaints and alternative solutions,
- research groups study the complaints and invent solutions,
- trade press scrutinise the research results,
- national media comment the research results,
- user oriented software suppliers implement proposed solutions,
- regulators and standards organisations confirm principles behind the solutions.
From APL (1):
Network of learning, University as marketplace.
From this proposed language:
IT quality survey (101), Users IT quality centre (102),
IT research consortium (103), Users' IT prize contest (382),
IT quality conference (383),
Users' IT quality certification (384)
Support initiatives in workshops, offices, schools and universities to articulate user requirements for the software you work with. Take part by formulating concrete demands that enhance the quality of the software you use in your group. Make it fit the decentralized teamwork organisations of tomorrow. If a Users' IT quality centre already exist in your region, support it by participating in its many activities. If it does not exist, take part in forming one.