For most companies involved in the development of hardware and software solutions, delivery of the product marks success. “High fives” are exchanged and product managers say “sabash!” to those who worked diligently in making the screens do the bidding of the end user. In my opinion however, this is not the point to mark success. Success is defined by the user’s confidence that the investment in hardware and software will:
- Make all users across the organization more effective with their tasks
- Allow the organization to provide its services more skillfully and more economically to an expanding number of people that it serves
I bring this point of view to my role as Director of Marketing and Client Services. I recognize that I can do nothing without the extraordinary and experience skills of my technologically oriented colleagues, and it is understandable that they are pleased when a product is turned over to the client. I hold this perspective because my role starts at the first client meeting, and ends long after the client signs off on product acceptance.
A case that illustrates my point is the crisis regarding the initial performance of the Healthcare.gov website created in response to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) in the United States. For most technology experts, including those who designed this website, their stated objective is to make the website work, and that will be success. I disagree. Success is when 47 million users who could not previously get health care log into the website and easily purchase medical insurance available under the current law. Technology for the sake of technology alone is meaningless. It must have a purpose.
When I meet with a prospective client, I rarely ask them “what” they want to do. I ask them “why” they want to do what they want to do. I listen for answers like, “not having to enter the same data in three different systems, or having to log into multiple systems where the information is not consistent; or being able to serve expanding demands without having to increase costs or hire additional staff.” These are the “whys”, around which that senior management makes their decisions. It rarely involves technology. In my last appointment, we surveyed the actual end users. These are the people who know what will make their work easier and more efficient. In this case, the organization was able to justify the cost of a $90,000 investment, in one year from labor costs alone. Again, no one spoke about the technology. My role is to help the customer define objectives and expectations.
Throughout the development process I am in constant discussion with the developers and the customer. This task can be frustrating, as I help to improve communication. I reconcile the developers’ attempts to satisfy a customer with the extra changes the customer requests to customize the system the way they want. A customer’s lack of knowledge can sometimes become a hurdle. The organization may not have the knowledge of how a system is developed and how seemingly small changes can create delays and increase in costs.
After the system is turned over, my task starts to ramp up as I work with the client. My goal is not to obtain a signature on a legal document, but to truly deal with the issue of customer satisfaction. Did the product meet their perceived promises? I work with training the end users and again listen for phrases such as, “this would work better if . . .” or “if it could just make coffee, too!”
Referring back to the Obamacare website, I believe that the development task was assigned to a group of people who saw the objective as collecting information, instead of providing users with options. Governments and bureaucrats can and like to do that. In contrast, Olive is concerned with providing options to our customers.