This, of course, is an election year, so we’re subjected to the usual array of ridiculous, mutually contradictory promises, none of which will last beyond the inaugural ball. They must think we’re smoking something, and probably think we inhale, too.

Since this is an election year, you’ll also be subjected to commentators and columnists of all persuasions shamelessly exploiting the subject in their ongoing, desperate attempts to create “hooks” to draw you into the main subject.

So why should I be any exception?

Bill Clinton and Bob Dole aren’t the only ones to make promises in their jobs, of course. (And you thought connecting this lead to an IS management topic would be a stretch.) Haven’t you, in a tight spot, ever made a promise in a meeting, only to go back to your office wondering how you’re ever going to deliver on it?

This week we begin a series on interaction between IS and the end-user community. Let’s set the stage with some basic insights:

Insight #1: Visibility = Dissatisfaction

When the quality movement picked up steam we all heard about delighting, rather than just satisfying customers. Most of us in IS shook our heads sadly, knowing the futility of this goal (along with the unfortunate “internal customer” concept that goes with it). The problem? “Quality” lumps lots of completely dissimilar issues into a single amoeba-like lump. We can mitotically divide this lump into two smaller chunks by recognizing that some forms of quality are only recognized by their absence, while others really do delight customers.

Genuine Corinthian leather delights a certain group of automotive customers. We can call this kind of quality “positive quality” (PQ, for those of you who, James Martin-like, enjoy acronyms). We can focus ingenuity, creativity, and all those other right-brain attributes on generating PQ-enhancing ideas.

Telephone dial tone doesn’t generate customer delight. Absence of dial tone, though, generates quite a bit of high-decibel-level conversation. We’ll call this kind of quality, where you’re only visible when things go wrong, negative quality (NQ). A lot of what we do falls into the NQ category.

Insight #2: The Need for Stealth End-User Satisfaction

IS interacts with the end-user community at all levels. Executives want you to focus on big strategic projects. Middle managers want you to build enhancements to their core information systems. Secretaries need help recovering their trashed memos. These requirements compete for resources, of course, and while the executives may agree to some tradeoffs in principle, those agreements vanish like vacation money when exposed to the sunny disposition of a secretary with a damaged document. (Rule #37 of organizational behavior: executives are terrified of secretarial dissatisfaction.)

If you expend visible effort supporting day-to-day end-user computer use, executives and middle managers will wonder who’s taking care of their strategic initiatives and production system enhancements. If you don’t take care of the day-to-day sturm unt drang, they’ll wonder … aloud … if you’re competent to handle the big issues when you can’t even take care of their secretaries.

So you need stealth efforts for optimal NQ.

Insight #3: IS isn’t the expert when it comes to personal computers.

Personal computers are more than a way to reach the company’s business systems. They’re more than a universal information access utility. They’re more than a general-purpose tool for improving effectiveness.

For some employees, they’re a hobby.

A friend of mine earned a PhD from his hobby, which happened to be creating a stochastic model of international banking. (He showed it to a friend who happened to run a graduate program in industrial engineering over lunch one day, and had his PhD a week later.)

Some people put a lot of effort into their hobbies. They read a lot, experiment a lot, think a lot. Within their self-imposed boundaries, they know more than you do. Disparage their expertise at your peril.

These insights represent the landscape. You have to build on it. Next week we’ll start to explore ways you can do so.