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The Arguments Against Customization?

January 13, 2011

In my experience, there’s a tendency in IT/IS to look up at a particular challenge and say, “Yeah, we can do that.” Much of the skills I’ve learned in technology came from the firm belief that I could force a computer to do pretty much anything if I only learned how. This attitude has gone a long way to make the tech folks the unsung heroes in their environments.

It used to be that you only had to ask one question when posed with a challenge. “Why?” The conversation sparked could lead to the quickest and most effective way to solve the immediate issue at hand. It might have led to a teachable moment, a chance to instruct the user in something they could do with a tool available to them already. In any case, the answer to the “Why?” would drive the project from there.

Now, answering the why is not enough. Project teams need to answer the “How.” How will this customization or modification benefit the end user? How can we demonstrate the increased productivity this project promises to deliver? How can we show the cost of maintaining this software will not surpass the cost savings it’s said to offer?

The How’s weigh heavily on any decision to customize Office 2010. Evident in the video clip “The Story of the Ribbon,” Microsoft has constructed an interface built on millions of data points indicating how people work. It’s difficult to imagine a law firm able to invest the same amount of money or effort into better understanding what button should go where. It doesn’t seem, in the face of such information, anecdotal tales of workflows and processes will answer, “How will this save money?”

That’s the biggest How, followed quickly by, “How will this make money?”

Moving from Office 2003 to 2010 will lead to a temporary drop in productivity. I’m not saying that examining potential customizations to reduce the depth and duration of that dip isn’t a worthwhile exercise. It’s not enough, however. This transition provides an excellent opportunity to examine how people work, help them better use the tools available to them, tools, in our world of web-based and mobile apps, that are increasingly customizable.

It’s time for us to use the How’s to answer what I consider the most important question an IT/IS can address, “How may I help you?”

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