The weakest link (Part 3)

The bit that fails in most carefully designed and implemented business systems is usually a human being. The technical term commonly used by helpdesk types to describe this phenomenon is PEBKAC (problem exists between keyboard and chair).

The bit that fails in most carefully designed and implemented business systems is usually a human being. The technical term commonly used by helpdesk types to describe this phenomenon is PEBKAC (problem exists between keyboard and chair).

A recent experience has called me to wonder exactly which keyboard and chair the inventor of this acronym was referring to. Sometimes, all the best design and implementation in the world won’t deliver what the user actually wants.

Regular readers of A Week of IT will know that for the last few weeks I’ve been very happy with my nice Linux home PC with its install of StarOffice. I wasn’t actually intending to write another column on Linux, but recent events have made it necessary.

Now, I hadn’t for a moment imagined that Mr Gates was losing any sleep over it, but I’d been feeling very smug indeed about all my nice free software. Unfortunately, my key user hadn’t been so happy.

No, my beloved just hadn’t coped at all well with the change. Unlike me, she wasn’t feeling all geeked up about the fact that the software was free. She just wanted the old stuff back so she could do her work the way she’d always done it. She’s no slouch but, like most users, she finds the computer scary at the best of times and what I’d done to “her” computer was just way beyond the sort of thing that civilised people do to one another. Our couch isn’t that comfy, so in the face of this kind of reason I had no choice but to reinstall Windows.

Coincidentally, I was reading last week that Dell is no longer shipping Linux with its desktop machines, citing lack of user uptake as the reason (I get the feeling my wife’s not the only one who didn’t want to use Linux). While I find Dell’s move disappointing, I can’t really bag it because, ultimately, it’s all about giving the people what they want.

I know what you’re thinking, but this doesn’t mean that the forces of good have been defeated. No, I’m down but not out. If nothing else, it’s all just served to highlight the importance of good change management (or, failing that, having a really damned good What’s In It For Me story) in order to overcome the natural tendency of users to resist change. The kids had been pushovers - I just gave them a version of Quake that looked better and ran better than their old Windows one had and they were hooked – but the gnome GUI and StarOffice just didn’t have anything that made them “better”. Technical features (and the price of course) made them compelling to me, the purchasing and engineering guy, but the end user just wanted to get her work done and really didn’t give a damn about esoteric stuff like Microsoft’s business practices and new product pricing regime. Mea culpa.

Swanson is IT manager at W Stevenson & Sons. Send email to Jim Swanson. Send letters for publication to Computerworld Letters.

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