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End-user computing manifesto redux (first appeared in InfoWorld)

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The best note-taker of all time worked in a department I managed several years ago. I was reading his notes from a staff meeting when, on page two, in the middle of a sentence on some procedure change or other we’d agreed to, I read the following: “(If you’ve read this far, you’ll find a dollar bill under your telephone.)” after which his notes returned to the subject at hand.

Sure enough, I found the dollar. When I returned it, laughing, I asked how much the experiment cost him. Of the ten dollars he invested, he lost two bucks, of which I returned one. It’s a good thing to try. I recommend it.

Same guy, different meeting. The notes: a picture of a horse, on its back. Ten people with whips stand around in different poses. Some flog the horse, some flog other team members, one or two stand back as noncombatants.

Accurate notes.

I’ve participated in dead-horse-floggings before, so why should I stop now? Between the Forum on InfoWorld Electric and e-mail, the reaction to my “End-User Computing Manifesto” was hot enough to melt lead, so it’s time to flog further.

Several end-users, mostly Macintosh users, I’m afraid, became incensed at the “No Prima Donnas” entry. A prima donna, in this context, is someone who insists on using a tool that competes with the standard. If I insist on using WordPerfect when my company has standardized on MS Word, I’d be a prima donna.

Some suggestions were topologically and anatomically impossible. Most, though, seemed concerned over how IS comes up with its list of standards, assuming they’d exclude end-users. For the record: I can’t imagine circumstances that would justify selecting end-user software without end-user involvement. I also can’t imagine a selection process without a support analyst and someone from the networking group (to assess compatibility with and impact on the company network).

A few perceptive readers pointed out that “support” is pretty broad, and that several levels of support should be defined. Here’s a scheme I’ve used that’s worked well.

Level 5: Fully supported software. IS installs it, tests it for compatibility with all supported desktop environments, upgrades it when new releases become available, and provides both classroom training and one-on-one assistance. The IS software budget pays for it, too.

Level 4: Acceptable alternative software. Software that fully supports the native file formats of Level 5 software generally falls into this category. IS buys this software, installs it on the central file servers, and upgrades it when new releases become available. It doesn’t, however, provide classroom training or one-on-one support beyond the point this software diverges in use from the Level 5 standard.

Level 3: Departmental software. Any department may choose to buy and support whatever software seems important to its organizational success. IS will participate in the selection process to make sure this software is compatible with, and not destructive of, the overall network environment, and will provide a network directory for it if needed. The department takes responsibility for installation and management of the software though – IS has no operational involvement.

Level 2: Software acceptable for individual use. End-users can buy and install whatever they want on their local hard drives. They must be able to produce the original installation diskettes at any time (to demonstrate the legality of the software) and must be fully self-supporting in its use. If Level 2 software somehow makes a computer unstable, IS may choose to help, or it may offer to restore the desktop to a standard configuration to get it working.

Level 1: Software that’s not acceptable in the organization. Different companies have different qualifications here – some allow no shareware; few allow games.

Limiting end-users to company standards makes IS a gatekeeper, not an enabler. IS can’t, though, support everything anyone decides to buy. Multiple support levels let both groups succeed.