by C.G. Lynch

How Do You Listen to End-Users?

Apr 24, 20083 mins
IT Leadership

Many enterprise IT leaders could learn something from this morning’s keynote talk at the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco with Steve Pearman, senior vice president of Product Strategy at MySpace: all technological innovations at MySpace generally come from users of the service, or at least win their approval first.

This user-administrator harmony enjoyed by MySpace is hard to find in businesses today, where we see much discord between business end-users and their IT departments.

CIOs generally resist, or even fear, the entrance of consumer technologies into the enterprise, generally for security or a perceived productivity losses. Many block social networks. This year’s CIO Consumer poll showed that only nine percent of CIOs let their end-users seek out their own technologies without restrictions.

According to Pearman, MySpace lives up to its philosophy of user-generated innovation by having its President, Tom Anderson, become an automatic “friend” to anyone who joins the service. He solicits opinion from users on his profile page and blog about what new features they’d like to see (or eliminated).

“No major feature [on MySpace] has ever been launched without a lot of user input,” he says. “You can’t take them [users] for granted. They are a thousand times smarter than any organization could hope to be.”

It’d be refreshing to see more CIOs run internal blogs where they interact with users like Anderson does to solicit their ideas for new pieces of technology in the enterprise. We profiled the top technology executive at Bell Canada, who used blogs for this task (and for product development as well).

After all, the emergence of social software (such as blogs, wikis and social networks) by end-users in the enterprise has become pervasive, so why not tap into it?

In a recent interview with Charlene Li, a Forrester analyst who co-wrote a book (called Groundswell) about this phenomenon, she summed up the regressive thinking of many CIOs on the topic. “When I talk to CIO’s, they’re often like, ‘how can I control this?'” Li says. “My point back to them is you can’t. It’s like air. You can’t stop air from coming into your organization.”

While I agree with Li wholeheartedly, I think some CIOs and IT managers are more progressive than we in the media make them out to be (at least that’s my optimistic opinion).

So if this is indeed the case, how do you IT managers and CIOs listen to end-users at your business? If you’re an end-user, how are they missing the boat? This is a topic we’re always looking into, so please feel free to e-mail me your thoughts or comment below.