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    The people that actually use the technology

    Last week amid much hype, Apple unveiled their long-awaited tablet computer, dubbed the iPad.

    Pause for a moment while the 'feminine hygiene' product jokes mill about for a second in your head.  Are you ready now? Good.

    Almost immediately after the details of the product were revealed, a seemingly collective shriek was emitted from various technology news sites, pundits, and longtime fans of Apple.  Most of this outcry was centered on the perceived shortcomings of the iPad.

    No camera?  No ability to multi-task?  No USB ports?  And on and on.

    One clever post compares the iPad to a rock, with the iPad only coming out ahead by the slimmest of margins.

    These criticisms are nearly entirely focused on a cohort of individuals that want the iPad to be a more complicated device.  One that would require a more skilled operator, that would likely fail more frequently, and one that would be more difficult for inexperienced or disinterested users to fully leverage.

    And yes, to some (maybe more that I want to admit) users these the absence of these more advanced and complex capabilities render the iPad superfluous and unnecessary. Let's call these people 'power users'.

    But for many, the ease of use, anticipated fast web browsing experience, and the simplicity with which their desired tasks can be completed on the iPad will offer a compelling value proposition. Calling up a web site, checking e-mail promise to be faster, easy, and dirt simple. Let's call these people 'casual users'.

    So we have on one hand the vocal but relatively few 'power users' clamoring for more and better everything, and what is likely a far wider (and quieter) population of 'casual users' who will likely find the iPad a pretty amazing little device.  The iPad will likely sell millions of units despite these criticisms,(remember many of these same power users thumbed their noses at the first iPod).

    I think there are some lessons in all this that enterprise Human Resources technology creators and implementers can learn from the iPad and from consumer technology, popular consumer web sites, and public social networks in general.

    For me, the lesson is this:

    In the enterprise of say 10,000 people that are the planned users of workforce technology (e.g. a performance management system), maybe 100 or so people could be placed in the category of 'power users'. They need the most advanced functionality, can adapt to a less than intuitive design, and often are willing to spend long periods of time learning how to use the technology.

    The other 9,900 or so people are 'casual users'.  Ease of use, simplicity, clear workflows and speed in which tasks can be completed are of primary importance. Use of workforce technologies are almost never their 'job', they are meant to be compliments to help them perform their jobs better.  They technologies can't be seen as a burden, time suck, and require lengthy and frequent pauses to ask for assistance in their use.  And the power users probably can't help all of them anyway, there are simply too many of them to effectively serve.

    When an organization deploys workforce technologies to ALL 10,000 employees, the needs, concerns, capabilities, and attitudes of the casual users are of utmost importance.  But it is almost exclusively the power users, and their management that participate in the vendor evaluations, make the purchase and design decisions, and (often) are influenced by which solution has the most of everything.

    But for the casual users of most workforce technologies having the most capability does not matter, only the right capability does.  For the vast majority of these users, their real jobs are creating, fixing, selling, answering, not interacting with the latest features in the performance management tool.

    The iPad, as has been pointed out everywhere, does not have the most capability, but for a large population of casual users it may have the right ones, and while critics, pundits, and technology experts are all taking turns bashing the iPad, it may very well be that Apple knows what it is doing and is hitting the perfect balance of features, usability, and design that these casual users want.

    Workforce technologies should always keep that balance in mind.

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    Reader Comments (9)

    Great post Steve! Yeah- for all those who desire that little bit extra, there is a Mac for that. It is called MacBook laptop.

    February 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLyn Hoyt

    Great post. It seems to me that Steve Jobs is clever enough to include both a power user system and a casual user system, perhaps switching between the two by, I don't know, hitting a little button on the screen. Maybe I am crazy? I do love my iphone though, so I will likely want an ipad, though the features 'not' included, and bemoaned by many, will be missed.

    February 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrian Meeks

    Spot-on. Thanks.

    February 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Krupa

    @Lyn - Thanks very much - I have to agree with you 100%

    @Brian - Thanks for sharing your comments, I think finding ways to meet the needs of all types of users is essential in workforce tech as well as mainstream consumer tech

    @Michael - Thanks pal!

    February 2, 2010 | Registered CommenterSteve

    Hi Steve, I enjoyed your post. I think the casual user/power user approach has many applications in the HR world. It's certainly been on my mind as I experiment with the free and low cost ATS's you referred me to. Several were not probably developed with the casual user (whether job applicant or HR/recruiter), while others are.

    Also, the whole topic of resumes; there are casual users and power users, and the disconnect between the two seems to be widening, making it harder for me to decide whom to consider. I have been mulling over a future post on this topic but it hasn't come together yet.

    February 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKrista Francis

    I love my iPod and iPhone and MacBook, but the wife won't let me get an iPad.


    But you bring up a valuable point about utilization -- and then there's the issue of return for the organization as well. If less than 10% of all functionality is ever used by casual users (like our brains - sigh), then how are organizations measuring their return on improving recruiting, hiring and retention efficiencies?

    This would be a great survey project, tapping into organizations and finding out what the true ratio of power user to casual user is with an ATS, Talent Management System, Performance Management, Workforce Planning -- and how organizations (and the power users) go shopping for these and how they amortize the software purchase over time, measure return...

    Sigh. I want an iPad.

    February 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKevin W. Grossman

    Nice post, Steve. Hard to argue against simplicity and ease of use.

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