How to determine what your users need vs. what they want

Business people request dedicated printers, new laptops, new cell phones, MiFi devices, portable mice, and other bright shiny objects for two reasons: Good reasons and not-so-good reasons. Your job is to determine who gets what new technology and when.

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Credit: Getty Images

Business people request dedicated printers, new laptops, new cell phones, MiFi devices, portable mice, and other BSOs[1] for two types of reasons. There are good reasons: They truly need the item to deliver on their jobs. There are not-so-good reasons: Because someone else already has one.

Your job is to distinguish between these two types of reasons.

Here are a few examples, and what you can do to differentiate between a true business need and "retail therapy."

"I need a dedicated printer for my office"

Scenario 1a: The VP of HR requests a dedicated printer for his/her office even though there is a fast, shared, color printer 20 feet away. His/her stated rationale is that the amount of confidential information being printed justifies this expense.

This sounds like a good business reason on its face. But, before you say "yes" to the request, ask a few more questions to make sure you actually are solving the right problem. Ask about the volume the VP is going to print, since the local printer is going to be slower than the one around the corner, and you do not want to trade one frustration for another. Ask if using the "lock" code on the printer around the corner to hold confidential output until the VP is physically at the printer would be a good solution. It may be only during annual review time that the shared printer is problematic, and the use of the lock code could be all that is needed.

Scenario 1b: The VP of Finance requests a dedicated printer for his/her office even though there is one 20 feet away. His/her stated rationale is that he/she "needs one."

Understand the need. In this case, it turns out he/she wants a dedicated printer so it always can have legal-sized paper loaded in it. You should explain that "Tray 4" in the printer around the corner always has legal-sized paper loaded and open a ticket to re-train the VP on how to use the printer driver that is preset to legal-size. That may or may not resolve the request, but you should try it before you proliferate local printers. The VP also should be happy that you are looking to save the company money!

"My laptop is too heavy. I need a light one."

Scenario 2: A sales person on the road 200 days a year requests a lighter laptop. This sales person has been around longer than the other sales people, and the newer sales people have lighter laptops already.

Remind the sales person that the lighter laptops do not have as many USB ports, do not have a built-in DVD or a built-in hotspot, and that the keyboard is a little smaller as well. Offer to have the sales person "test drive" a lighter laptop the next time he/she is in the office. You may discover that it is a case of "PC envy" or you may discover that the salesperson's shoulder hurts. In the first case, you likely will ride out the hardware cycle. In the second case, if you offer laptop bags with wheels, this may address the problem better than a new laptop.

"I need a portable hotspot"

Scenario 3a: The director of Implementations asks for a portable hotspot so he/she "can work from airports." Your company pays for employees' cell phone usage. 

Ask how often the director is in airports where he/she does not have airline lounge privileges. It may be the case that enabling the hotspot on the company-paid-for cell phone could meet this need. Check if the director's laptop has a built-in MiFi which could be activated. Ask if other people need to share the hotspot. This seems like a reasonable request, and you should be searching for the answer which is right for both the director and the company.

Scenario 3b: The director of customer analytics asks for a portable hotspot so he/she "can work from airports."

The director, you learn, takes four trips a year. If you have a loaner pool of hot spots, talk the Director through how it works. If you do not have a loaner pool, understand if having the Director purchase WiFi on the airplane for $14.95 four times a year addresses the issue. 

Follow up so you can learn more about what your users need

Adjust your world view to avoid slotting all requests into your existing biases. Make a note to yourself to check in a couple months from now to make sure the person is actually using whatever solution you agreed to. If he/she is not, circle back around to make sure the need still exists and the person was appropriately trained on the solution.

Be open that there may be a good business reason for the request, and be sure to take the time to understand the request.


The opinions expressed in this Blog are those of Paul T. Cottey and do not necessarily represent those of IDG Communications, Inc., its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.

[1] Bright Shiny Objects

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