Why don’t you make it easy for end users to find what they need?

by Frank 8. June 2013 06:00

Many records managers and librarians still hold on to the old paradigm that says if a user wants something they should come though the information management professional. They either believe that the end user can’t be trusted to locate the information or that the task is so complex that only an information professional can do it in a proper and professional manner.

This approach to tightly controlled access to information has been with us for a very long time; unfortunately, not always to the benefit of the end user. It is often interpreted as a vice-grip on power rather than a service by the end users.

In my experience, (many years designing information and knowledge management solutions), most end users would like the option of searching for themselves and then deciding whether or not to request assistance.

Of course it may also be true that the system in use is so complex or so awkward to use that most end users (usually bereft of training) find it too hard to use and so have to fall back on asking the information professional. However, if this is the case then there will invariably be a backlog of requests and end users will be frustrated because they have to wait days or weeks for a response. In this environment, end users begin to feel like victims rather than valued customers or ‘clients’.

The obvious answer is to make it easy for end users to find what they are looking for but this obvious answer seems to escape most of us as we continue to struggle with the obscure vagaries of the existing system and an often impenetrable wall of mandated policies, processes and official procedures.

If we really want a solution, it’s time to step outside of the old and accepted model and provide a service to end users that end users actually want, can use and appreciate. If we don’t take a wholly new approach and adopt a very different attitude and set of procedures then nothing will improve and end user dissatisfaction (and anger) will grow until it reaches the point where they simply refuse to use the system.

End users are not stupid; end users are dissatisfied.

One of the core problems in my experience is an absence of an acceptance of the fact that the requirements of the core, professional users are very different to the requirements of the end users. At the risk of oversimplifying it, end users only need to know what they need to know. End users need a ‘fast-path’ into the system that allows them to find out what they need to know (and nothing more) in the shortest possible time and via the absolutely minimum amount of keystrokes, mouse-clicks or swipes.

End users need a different interface to a system than professional users.

This isn’t because they are less smart, it is because the ‘system’ is just one of the many things they have to contend with during a working day, it is not their core focus. They don’t have time (or the interest) to become experts and nor should they have to become experts.

If end users can’t find stuff it isn’t their fault; it is the system’s fault.

The system of course, is more than just the software. It is the way menus and options are configured and made available, it is the policy and procedures that govern access and rights to information. It is the attitude of those ‘in-power’ to those that are not empowered.

If you want happy and satisfied end users, give them what they need.

Make sure that the choices available to an end user are entirely appropriate to each class of end user. Don’t show them more options then they need and don’t give them more information than they are asking for. Don’t ask them to navigate down multiple levels of menus before they can ask the question they want to ask; let them ask the question as the very first thing they do in the system. Then please don’t overwhelm them with information; just provide exactly and precisely what they asked for.

If you want the end users off your back, give them what they need.

I fall back on my original definition of a Knowledge Management system from 1997, “A Knowledge Management system is one that provides the user with the explicit information required, in exactly the form required, at precisely the time the user needs it.”

With hindsight, my simple definition can be applied to any end user’s needs. That is, please provide a system that provides the end user with the explicit information required, in exactly the form required, at precisely the time the end user needs it.

What could be more simple?

More references:

The IDEA – 1995

Knowledge Management, the Next Challenge? - 1997

Whatever happened to the Knowledge Management Revolution?  – 2006

A Knowledge Management System – A Discourse – 2008


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