The Wall Street Journal’s Business
Technology Blog had an excellent post by Ben Worthen Tech
Terms We Hate. The post discusses terms used in technology that are not
descriptive and sometimes even insulting. The post states:
"What group of
professionals other than those in information technology calls its customers ‘users?’
Off-hand, this blogger can only think of one: drug dealers. That’s not to say
the two are anything alike. But the word implies that the ‘users’ are utterly
dependent on the provider. The Business Technology Blog also hates the term ‘users’
and we grit our teeth every time we use it (three times yesterday, once the day
I started off in software engineering, so I used the term customers to refer
to the people who bought and used the software products my company sold.
When I moved into IT, and later consulting, I cringed at the term "business
users" because I always thought it belittled them and their role. It
seemed to me that the term positioned the business people as subservient or at
least beholding to the IT staff.
I tried using the term "customers" instead of users early in my
consulting career, but IT people just didn’t seem to embrace the term. I try to
refer to business groups, such as finance, marketing, sales, etc., or to business
roles, such as analysts, instead of using the generalized term business users.
This may seem trite, but names do matter and impact behavior. I find it
humorous, for example, when IT people talk about forbidding business users (yes I know I just used the term) from
using spreadsheets. Does the IT staff understand that the business people need
to run the company and may need spreadsheets
to get their work done? When did the IT staff start running the enterprise and start
ordering the business groups around like children?
It wouldn’t hurt if business users were customers and then maybe they’d be
treated like customers.