Skip to main content

Customers, users and other myths

Evey project we undertake has a sponsor.  This may be someone in Academic Registry, in the Finance Department, a College, or any other area of the university.  The sponsor is the person who requests the project and in some cases also provides the funds to make it happen.

Until recently, we called this person "the customer".  Which made sense in one way, as they were requesting and possibly paying for the project.  Calling them the customer encouraged us to focus on satisfying their requirements and steered us away from a purely IT-based view of the world.

Of course, these people were usually senior managers and usually did not actually use the systems we were building or buying.  The users, or sometimes "end users", were a different group entirely.  Although I've never met someone who called themselves an "end user".

The downside of these terms is that they aren't accurate and they obscure the requirements of the systems rather than illuminate them.  If the university has any customers, they are the students and/or the funding agencies, rather than managers spending their allocation of the university's funds.  Even here, the word "customer" or "user" is not helpful.  Students may be paying for their education but the relationship with the university is deeper and more complex than when I buy a book from Amazon.

So we're adopting other words to describe our business.  "Partners" is a word we favour for our colleagues in other parts of the university and this is both an aspiration of how we want to work together as well as an indication that the actual people our systems are for are different again.  And rather than call people "users", why not call them "students" or "staff" (or "applicants", "visitors" or "alumni")?

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Presentation: Putting IT all together

This is a presentation I gave to an audience of University staff: 

In this seminar, I invite you to consider what the University’s online services would be like, if we worked together to design them from the perspective of the student or member of staff who will use them, instead of designing them around the organisational units that provide them. I’ll start with how the services might appear to that student or member of staff, then work back from there to show what this implies for how we work, how we manage our data, and how we integrate our IT systems. It might even lead to changes in our organisational structure.

Our online services make a vital and valued contribution to the work of our students and staff. I argue that with better integration, more consistent user interfaces, and shared data, this contribution could be significantly enhanced.

This practice is called “Enterprise Architecture”. I’ll describe how it consults multiple organisational units and defines a framework …

Not so simple...

A common approach to explaining the benefits of Enterprise Architecture is to draw two diagrams: one that shows a complicated mess of interconnections, and one that shows a nicely layered set of blocks. Something like this one, which came from some consultants:


I've never felt entirely happy with this approach.  Yes, we do want to remove as much of the needless complexity and ad-hoc design that litters the existing architecture.  Yes, we do want to simplify the architecture and make it more consistent and intelligible.  But the simplicity of the block diagram shown here is unobtainable in the vast majority of real enterprises.  We have a mixture of in-house development and different third-party systems, some hosted in-house, some on cloud infrastructure and some accessed as software-as-a-service.  For all the talk of standards, vendors use different authentication systems, different integration systems, and different user interfaces.

So the simple block diagram is, basically, a l…

2016 has been a good year

So much has happened over the last year with our Enterprise Architecture practice that it's hard to write a succinct summary.  For my day-to-day experience as enterprise architect, the biggest change is that I now have a team to work with.  This time last year, I was in the middle of a 12-month secondment to create the EA practice, working mainly on my own.  Now my post has been made permanent and I have recruited two members of staff to help meet the University's architectural needs.

I have spent a lot of the year meeting people, listening to their concerns and explaining how architecture can help them.  This communication remains vital, the absolute core of what we do and we will continue to meet people in this way.  We also talk to people in other Universities in order to learn from what they are doing and to share our own experience back.  A highlight in this regard was my trip to the USA last January.

Our biggest deliverable for the past year was the design of the data wa…