Tuesday, September 04, 2012

People-centric computing - plus ça change

@oscarberg says "The greatest (ongoing) disruption in corporate IT is the introduction of user-centric thinking. ... The great shift we are experiencing in corporate IT is the shift from technology-centric to people-centric thinking". "Yes!!!", says @tetradian.

People have been talking about this shift for decades. I remember @markkunurminen talking eloquently about this maybe twenty-five years ago. (See his book People or Computers.) Sadly, I don't see much evidence of any lasting change happening.

I see it, says @oscarberg. "IT depts and CIOs are struggling with it. Pressure from mgmt, employees and biz env is increasing."

There has always been pressure both for and against this kind of change. There is a strong power of technology-as-fetish, nowadays represented in such sentiments as "Let's give everyone iPads." In his book, Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life, the philosopher Albert Borgmann calls this The Device Paradigm.

@oscarberg concedes that "Let's give everyone iPads" is a perfect example of technology-centric thinking. @oscarberg continues "I'm not saying orgs have done the shift from technology to people-centric yet, but they will have to. ... there's no other way for Corp IT to enable value-creation in a knowledge-intense business".

I completely agree with Oscar's enthusiasm for people-centric computing, but I have too many grey hairs to rely completely on enthusiasm. The logic of history may tell us that progress is inevitable, evangelists may tell us that a spectre is haunting the IT department, but we are still waiting ...

In any case, some versions of so-called "people-centric computing" seem to be still infected by the device paradigm. Chris Wolf of Gartner defines people-centric computing as "not simply delivering applications to devices but delivering them to people". Of course users nowadays expect to be able to access applications and data from a variety of devices (as in Gartner's use of the term), but this does not qualify as escaping from the device paradigm. On the contrary, it can be understood as the users' becoming ever more strongly bound to the commodities and services provided by an increasingly interchangeable and often invisible range of devices.

Of course, not all industry analysts see things from such a narrow focus. Phil Wainewright talks about the democratization of computing, but end-user computing is hardly a new topic either. Even before my time in the industry, COBOL was promoted as a programming language for end-users. Plus c'est la même chose.

Chris Wolf, Dancing on Citrix's Doorstep (Gartner, Sept 2011)

Phil Wainewright, People-centric IT for a new decade (ZDnet January 2010)

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