Vendors lack true user empathy

While vacationing out East I noticed many of my credit card receipts had none of the numbers deleted. I would have left it at that had not a confluence of events and stories crossed my path to create the perfect storm for an editor.

At a recent security gathering for media, one attendee floated the occasionally repeated mantra of the IT higher ups — isn’t it time for a PC user licence, similar to that for cars? The framework for the comment was the increase in malicious code writers’ success due, in part, to ignorant users opening attachments with nary a thought. The statement was surprisingly deft in that, with only a few words, it demonstrated the narrow-minded thinking that has plagued the industry since its inception — users should have in-depth understanding of the technology they use.

In order for the industry to mature and integrate fully into all aspects of society, it has to realize that technology is a tool that works best when no one is thinking about it. In Ryan B. Patrick’s feature (page 14), he talked to SMBs. One quote hit the nail on the head.

“We need staff to not notice the equipment. It’s got to be there, fire up and work; we don’t even want to hear about it…it just works and that’s it,” said Jason Tucker, logistics and export manager at the Winnipeg-based candy maker Clodhoppers.

The vendors often say they understand this, and I don’t deny their willingness to change, but their actions belie the truth. When I came back from my vacation I had hundreds of e-mails. I opened Outlook and figured I’d get a coffee while I waited for the download. But my antivirus program’s default for malicious code script blocking is set on “ask me what to do.” So each time a virus was detected I had to respond.

Yes, I know it can be turned off (it is at home), but why in the world would the default be set so a less knowledgeable person has this interaction with his or her e-mail? It is a bloody virus. Keep the user as far away from it as possible. The IT savvy can certainly turn it on if they care, but you can be certain the vast majority of users have no idea how to turn it off.

Microsoft did the same with its XP firewall, by default turned off. Microsoft told me it was so users wouldn’t have their Web access inadvertently affected by its use. Again, those who would notice the adverse affects are the same people who could turn it off. In an admission of the error of its ways, Microsoft has the firewall on by default in XP’s Service Pack 2.

This sort of thinking occurs when the knowledgeable design technology for the less informed. Imagine if in order to get a driver’s license, you actually had to understand how a car’s engine works — and I’m not talking basics, I’m talking compression ratios and fuel/air mixtures to deal with changes in humidity. We’d all be taking public transit.

Back to the restaurants and hotels. They shouldn’t have to set up their systems to delete credit card information. It is time vendors start thinking like all users, not just the IT elite.

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