The IT industry talks a lot about how the role of IT managers hasevolved, or how CIOs have evolved, or how the IT department hasevolved. We talk less about how users have evolved, except with respectto new ways in which they annoy technology professionals.
One way to get your head around how users are changing – and how torespond to their needs – is to think of them not as co-workers, not asdrones, and certainly not as “customers” (ugh!) to need a certain levelof service. You can think of them, instead, as selfsumers, a term Icame across in a recent report from PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Canadianoffice written by David Jacobsen and Victoria Cooper.
I’ll let PwC define the selfsumer:
PwC believes that there is a significant trend in place ofmoving beyond the consumer who shopped in stores and online choosingproducts that were designed and advertized by others. Moreover, thistrend has already moved beyond the prosumer, who shopped online, helpeddesign products and enjoyed targeted, personalized advertising. Now thenew Selfsumer has arrived, who searches for and discovers bits andpieces of offerings and advertising of products from multiple sources.
The Selfsumer will use powerful, easy-to-use, adaptive softwaremashups tools (web applications that adaptively combine data andfunctionality from more than one source) to decide on the fly when tobuy, what to buy, what combinations to buy, and where to buy it.Selfsumers will not work alone and will collaborate to seek out anddecide on their own purchasing preferences through social networking,brand and product awareness reinforced by “advertainment”, rather thancommercials as we know them today.
This sounds, to me, like many of the younger or more technologicallyproficient information workers that occupy cubicles today. They arequick to turn to Google or other sources to solve their own problembefore consulting the help desk, and they will do what they can toavoid the bureaucracy of the IT department by downloading andinstalling Web 2.0 tools they think might be frowned upon.
The concept of a selfsumer is appealing because it suggeststechnology gives a supreme degree of empowerment to the averagepurchaser. Whether that’s really true is an open question – sometimes Iwonder if traditional marketing approaches are so easily circumvented.If average users buy into this notion, however, IT managers shouldstart thinking about how it will affect their behavior in a workenvironment as well. If they are used to deciding what to buy, when tobuy and where to buy it, why wouldn’t they also expect to decide whatto use, when to use it and how?
It’s also worth paying attention to the collaborativecharacteristics PwC highlights. IT departments have typically set upone-to-one relationships with users. An employee’s PC is broken, forexample, and someone in IT comes to fix it. The nature of the ITproblems are becoming more complex because the workers are becomingmore collaborative, which means IT managers need to figure out theextent to which they can manage a one-to-many relationship with groupsof users who share certain behavioral approaches.
And of course, the trends PwC is tracking don’t just apply to users.The ability to source information from multiple repositories, to workin tandem with trusted networks of peers will create major shifts –hopefully positive ones –in the way technology is managed. IT managersmay soon have to accept that they’re becoming selfsumers, too.