Confederation of European Computer User Associations
|Confédération Européenne des Associations d'Utilisateurs des Technologies de I'Information|
User: the under-used resource?
Are users an under-used resource? Undoubtedly they are. Who is under-using them? The industry is not making enough use of them to help evaluate products and speed them to market. Users are not only a resource, they are also potential consumers. But marketing people do not like to talk about users. They only talk about consumers. And they believe that they can find out what turns users into consumers without consulting the users themselves. Can they?
The Motto “The market knows best” is a favorite. But how are they to know best? Particularly, how are they to know what the consumers want in case of innovative products? This is a tricky problem. The consumers themselves do not always know what they want. They look at things from their own perspective of what they know and what they have to day. As Henry Ford put it: "If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they'd have asked for a faster horse."
But Henry Ford was not a marketer, he was an engineer and he went ahead anyway with his “iron horse” and we all know the tremendous success of the internal combustion engine. If he had taken them for a spin in a prototype Model T they would have said “the iron horse is really what we want”. The point is “seeing is believing” particularly when dealing with paradigm changing innovations. And we desperately need those innovations. Without them we will never be able to turn EU into the strongest and most competitive economic community of the World by 2010 as outlined in the Lisbon agenda. Therefore, we need to mobilize every resource available to help. This includes the users, the potential customers or consumers who will buy the products and services on offer. How do we do this? By involving the users in the preparation and development process. The involvement serves multiple purposes:
1. Make the users aware of technology advancements and opportunities
2. Turn the users early into potential consumers
3. Avoid wrong product decisions and lost investments
4. Shorten the time to market and improve competitiveness
And this can be done. Let me give you 2 examples.
One of the most exciting European developments it the Airbus 380. While all the technology may be too far fetched for a potential passenger he or she understands the cabin environment, the seats, the lightening, air conditioning, toilets, etc. And Airbus is doing it right 1.
“The Airbus A380 took off from Blagnac International Airport in Toulouse at 09:58 am local time this morning with 474 passengers on board for the first in a series of four long flights or “Early Long Flights”. During the flights, the passengers, comprised of Airbus employees and cabin experts, will put the cabin through its paces.”
“The Early Long Flights are an important step towards the A380’s entry into service. Though not part of the technical certification program, these flights allow Airbus to assess the cabin environment and systems in flight ahead of final certification ensuring thatairlines will benefit from a fully mature aircraft on delivery.”
The underlined text says it all. Users are testing the facilities on board and this will shorten the time to market.
CECUA has proven this point earlier during the SCOFI Project, an EU Safer Internet Action Plan project. What makes SCOFI so different is a substantial user involvement from start to finish. CECUA is promoting user involvement as a promising way to raise userawareness and accelerate the pick up of the information society. For the industry partners user involvement helps guide the technical research and development towards satisfying real user needs and is also an important step towards commercial exploitation, shortening the time to market by years. It is a win-win for all. In the course of the SCOFI Project students, teachers and administrators were involved in defining the user requirements and also in the 4 country full scale evaluation at the end of the project. 2
An aircraft is not an information technology product. But the approach of having users involved is not limited to information technology. The approach is universally applicable to all industries. The Airbus 380 is a highly visible European prestige project. Hopefully other industries and companies will follow suit. CECUA congratulates Airbus for their initiative.
Another positive sign is from the political side. The Lisbon agenda is a political agenda. And politicians have to encourage industries to make every effort to catch up, including making best use of all available resources. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, did her part in her opening speech at the recent IFA consumer electronics fair in Berlin,both as a politician and also as a user. Angela Merkel said “Radio, TV, Computers, Internet and Telephone are converging into a new generation of multimedia devices. I observe with great interest who does what when and how, and I would like to use this opportunity to make a request, a request becoming more and more important with advancing age, don't make things too difficult for your customers, but if something is difficult, then provide good service and support."3
Angela Merkel made a very important point here, users of advancing age are also potential consumers and their needs have to be taken into account. The new generation of multimedia devices is not only for the young to enjoy but for us all. But different ages have different requirements. And Angela Merkel was reminding the industry not to forget the older ones. And this is best done to have them also involved in the device development process from early on to make sure things are not too difficult for them.
Other political leaders would do well to support Angela Merkel’s point of view. Also the European Commission should join the group. Unfortunately user involvement is not high on the Commission agenda. Although user involvement is required for EU projects the Commission is only paying a lip service to it. This has to change.
CECUA would like to open a dialogue on this issue. Please send your comments and remarks to firstname.lastname@example.org