The difference between IT user needs and wants

One of the most challenging duties that an IT director must battle is differentiating between the needs and the wants of their users. We must be open to new technologies but must be cautious in deciding which devices, services, software, etc. will be adopted and/or supported.

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Jamie Larson

As the Director of Technology for a small County, I sometimes feel like my users are children and I am their parent. There are times when all I seem to hear is “I need, I need, I need.” It wasn’t all that many years ago that this “need” was all about a new PC. Today, it is all about the newest iPad and latest streaming media device.

Workers are no different than the child that believes he needs that stuffed teddy bear conveniently placed at the end of the bread aisle. Deny the child’s wish and suffer the wrath of a temper-tantrum or watch them run to Mom for sympathy. Tell an employee “no” and the result is frequently that they will begin complaining to their supervisor or possibly your supervisor.

All of us have the occasional difficulty differentiating between a need and a want. In life, we need air, water, and food. We want a larger television and a convertible that makes the neighbors jealous. This leaves a very large grey area that could be classified as either one.

One of my customers was repeatedly approached by their employees to purchase a particular tablet PC that had just come out. They believed it was going to be the best thing they could possibly purchase for their medical agency. The issue came up a number of times over several months and the users were convinced that the organization was just being “cheap” and didn’t care what they needed. Why not just give in? Wouldn’t it be easier this one time?

Many devices are introduced each year and a number of them disappear in a short period of time. Each new application requires money for the initial purchase and time to educate users and support staff to use it properly. My client knew that they could not afford to adopt an unproven technology. It was better for them to wait a year and purchase the second-generation product so that others could “iron out the bugs.”

Organizations should make a business case for investing in new products. Is this product going to save money? Increase production? Reduce downtime? It is important to provide the right balance of efficiency and affordability. Of course, there is no “one size fits all” equation for this philosophy. Fortune 100 companies that could lose billions of dollars in profit due to a small competitive advantage certainly must invest heavily in the latest and greatest. However, the average municipality is probably safe to use last year’s technology.

Some new technologies may not show an immediate need for your organization but offer a hint of potential. A responsible technology director must be open to testing new products on a small scale in order to be prepared when the want becomes a need. This can often be done by creating an internal technology committee that reviews and ranks new products. The organization will decide whether or not to adopt new products based on this committee’s reviews.

You will likely find the same users repeatedly requesting new technologies. Allowing the most interested employees serve on the technology committee will educate them on the process of evaluating new products and offer them an understanding of why every technology cannot be adopted. Having people become a part of the process is a great way to reduce negativity.

When reviewing technology requests, it is most important that you don’t say “no” just because you have the authority to deny their requests. Listen to their ideas and be open to suggestions that may be beneficial. You have done your job when you have been sensitive to user input and provided rational reasons for denying requests.  Most users will understand, but there will always be others that continue acting like that child at the end of Aisle 3.


Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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