by David Rosenbaum

Automation Can Create User Frustration

Aug 01, 20063 mins
IT Leadership

I have a confession to make.

I am a user.

Yes, although I help edit a business technology magazine, I myself am just a simple user of the services IT provides. And like most users, I am often bugged, bothered, bewildered (and short-tempered) about IT changes.

For instance, we recently migrated to a new content management system, and one of its features is the automation of the print function. As a result, I no longer have to do the back-breaking work of dragging “Print” down from the File menu and clicking on it manually. Instead, our new system recognizes that I want to print something when I change its status in the system. And then it prints it. Or doesn’t. And when it doesn’t, there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s automated, see? Meaning I have no control over it. And because I have no control, a signal goes off deep in the reptilian part of my brain that it’s time to attack someone. Someone in IS.

Rationally, I know all this is not IS’s fault. But because feelings of powerlessness lead to feelings of rage, rationality simply doesn’t enter the equation.

My point is this: CIOs need to approach automation carefully because by definition it removes control from users. Therefore, CIOs need to communicate, they need to be open, and they need to market changes well. Check out United States Tennis Association CIO Larry Bonfante’s column, “No Marketing, No Sale” (Page 28) on how to do that successfully through multiple channels in multiple ways. Before somebody gets hurt.

Of course, I say that jokingly. I’m completely harmless. But the world out there is anything but. In Senior Writer Ben Worthen’s cover story, “IT Versus Terror” (Page 34), Worthen’s reporting reveals that the government’s use of data-mining technology to prevent terrorism is being compromised by an almost total lack of project management or ROI analysis. Amid the public debate about the efficacy and morality of data mining as a strategy to combat terrorism, this story cuts through the FUD to provide a deep understanding of the necessity for establishing a strong business case for any technology initiative, even when the value of the goal is beyond debate.

Also in this issue is Senior Writer Susannah Patton’s “Disaster!” (Page 42) about how one company kept its business and its lines of communication open in the aftermath of last summer’s London terrorist bombings. The story lays out a simple, robust crisis management strategy that any CIO can and should deploy.

Both articles are critical to the CIO’s understanding of the world and IT’s role in their businesses, and both emphasize the need for openness and communication in the conduct of the CIO job. Without that, people really might get hurt.

And that’s no joke.