A call for end-user advocates

FRAMINGHAM (10/16/2003) - A constant complaint I hear is how few end-user advocates there are - end users who are willing to speak out on important issues. Most users don't think it's worth it or think they will only get in trouble by talking. They're wrong.

One of the best ways to communicate your needs to vendors is through the press and at conferences. Vendors listen closely to end-user advocates, and the good part is you don't have to be a CIO to be heard.

Use the press and conferences to both present your problem and talk about what type of solution you need. In effect, you can write the requirement document for the product. Maybe other users share your need but don't know how to express it, or maybe you are early in understanding the need. Going "public" with your need will draw attention to it. Vendors then will ask around, and if your need is important, it will go to the top of the list. If you don't speak out on what you need, maybe no one else will, and it will take longer to get the features or products you desire.

If you don't know the solution but do know the problem, then use the press to get the word out. The press loves to bring up users' problems and then ask vendors what they are doing about them.

If you take up the call to start influencing vendors, there's one important rule you should follow: Be positive. Tell people what you would like, not what you dislike. While you might want to strike out at a vendor that has made you unhappy, doing so will only lead to problems for your business and your relationship down the road. It is better to be positive and praise a vendor for doing something you like. They and the other vendors will get the message.

How do you actually become a user advocate? Do one or all of the following:

* Talk with the press. They are not your enemy trying to get you in trouble (just make sure you follow the "be positive" rule). You can find the editors by looking in the masthead at the front of most publications.

* Take the time to speak at conferences. Conference chairmen like nothing better than hearing from "real" users instead of the typical analysts or vendors. The only reason there are so few users on panels is that it is almost impossible to find them. Most conferences list the session leaders. Contact them; most will take users' input.

* Write about what you need. If you have a problem, many editors will be glad to entertain a short piece or feature about it.

I know you might be afraid to talk, fearing what management will think. Don't worry; you're showing management that you want to use the press to amplify your company's needs. When I was a network architect, my strategy was to use the press to help get vendor attention, and it worked. Management understood what I was doing and supported it - as long as I kept things positive.

So stop complaining that no one listens to you. Become an end-user advocate.

Layland is president of Layland Consulting, a consulting firm specializing in new technology and its impact on enterprise networks in West Hartford, Conn. He can be reached at robin@layland.com.

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