To most of us in the insurance technology world it is probably no surprise that a lot of vendors are trying hard to make their wares more user-friendly so that a company’s business users can not only use them, but configure their parameters and do a lot of work without the guidance of IT folks.
At first blush, this seems like a good idea, because—after all—it is the business users who generally run the business. The more such users can do on their own, the less IT has to become involved with problems that arise from user mistakes or ignorance. But really, how far can we carry this trend without dumbing down our applications to the point where they are not delivering the high-end technological functionality that we expect from them?
The answer, no doubt, depends on who the business user is. At one time, perhaps 10 or 15 years ago, it would not have been an exaggeration to say that most business personnel at insurance companies and elsewhere were pretty much clueless about technology and its use. Today, however, computer use in general is more pervasive, and just about every executive has at least a passing familiarity with technology. Then again, a little knowledge can be dangerous.
In my experience, business users (of which I am one) tend to fall into one of three broad categories. First we have the pure Luddites, who proudly boast that they want nothing to do with bits and bytes, and are just as happy to leave processes the way they are. Next there are the annoying amateurs, who have picked up enough computer knowledge to sound like they know what they are doing, but in reality have an awful lot to learn. The final group is the tech savvy crowd—those who have learned more than a little, and who know when it’s time to call IT rather than try to reprogram a balky applications themselves.
The first group (Luddites), while charmingly eccentric, should not be allowed near a critical program without knowledgeable help. The third group (“tech savvy”) may provide that help, but can in most cases be trusted to work well with technology. It is the second group that concerns me the most. There is a certain amount of coolness associated with being a nerd, and I fear that this “annoying amateur” cluster enjoys that just a little too much, while lacking the actual chops needed to work well with critical business programs. So—to paraphrase the Peter Principle—they rise to the level of their own incompetence, and when they get there, things get messy. The result is that many of the human-generated problems with systems originate with this group.
So what this comes down to is “knowing your own limitations” (as Clint Eastwood once breathily remarked) and the limitations of the business users who interact with your critical systems. There is no shame in calling on IT for help, even if you are a seasoned technophile. Believe me, the IT helpdesk would much rather have a “how do I do it” call than an “I think I broke something” message.
I know some of you will say that IT people are just a little sensitive over the fact that more knowledgeable business users may in fact reduce the need for IT personnel, thereby eliminating bodies from a specialty that is already seeing losses from the deportation of their jobs overseas to outsourcers. That is a fair point, but I doubt most enterprises will begin laying off IT folks for the sole reason that business people are doing better at using technologies in-house.
Let’s all agree to let the tech people take the helm before we run the ship aground while trying to find our way.
Ara C. Trembly (www.aratremblytechnology.com) is the founder of Ara Trembly, The Tech Consultant, and a longtime observer of technology in insurance and financial services.
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