Beware of people who tell you technology is important. That statement can be expanded to “beware of people who tell you that advanced technology is the most important feature in computer systems.” Those warnings represent some of the cautions thrown out in the battle to sell computers products and services. One the one side, you can find both Intuit and Sage Software claiming that Microsoft tries to sell technology. What they mean by that is that technology is being pushed over the ability to solve problems or ease of use. Since there have been times when Microsoft founder Bill Gates has been quoted as saying software is not easy enough to use, we’ll leave it up to the public to decide if the competitive claims are accurate. But no matter who is truly selling easy-to-use software, it’s an important issue and I believe that Intuit and Sage are correct in saying that users don’t care about technology and that ease-of-use (and its companion, ease of learning) trumps all other issues. If you can’t figure out how to use something, or it’s too cumbersome to use, you won’t use it and it doesn’t do anyone much good. The problem is making products easy to use. Often, assumptions are the great barriers, and they are barriers to communication in general. Intuit chief executive Steve Bennett uses the example from his company’s study of users of TurboTax. One user, noting that the TurboTax interview asked if the taxpayer had made cash or non-cash contributions, concluded that her gift via a check was a non-cash item. Accountants may laugh, but for a lot of people, this kind of misunderstanding happens frequently It's easy to find processes where hidden assumptions are built it. This week, I renewed my subscription to Norton’s anti-virus, anti-malware Norton Internet Security. After renewing via the Web, I found my computer continuing to warn me that my subscription was soon to expire, although my credit statement said I had paid for it. It turned out that because I had signed up for the 2007 version, instead of renewing the 2006, my system didn’t recognize the renewal. That I would know I had to remove the old version and install the new one, is an assumption. And I don’t consider clear from the explanation on the Symantec Web site. Someone at Symantec thought this issue was clear, just as the designers of TurboTax -- and every accountant in the nation -- understand that the definition of cash includes demand deposits. But if you’re not a computer person, if you don’t have the training as an accountant or exposure to business, it’s not obvious at all. It’s just something that gets in the way. No, what’s important is not technology; it’s understanding how people use technology and how they understand the issues that confront them.
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