Widening the Lens: Developers Need to Understand Their Clients’ Clients

Date:   Monday , July 31, 2006

Companies in the information technology industry are closer in nature to the service sector than to those in the manufacturing sector because they focus more on serving the customer than on producing goods. The key drivers to success in any service business are customer satisfaction and quality.

As part of this sector, we need to constantly keep in sight the needs of the end customer, who may not always be the immediate client. Often those in “techie” roles make the mistake of assuming that their jobs are restricted to designing and developing software. They do not always have a clear understanding of the needs and requirements of the people using the end product. Therefore, the resultant application might satisfy the interim client but is of limited use to the end customer.

To avoid this typical problem, at the outset of a project, develop a clear understanding of the likely user experience, the product usability requirements, and any business, technical issues. For example, with a bank’s Web site project, ensuring that financial information is presented in everyday terms is as important as incorporating links to cross-sell mortgage products or ensuring that the system is integrated with the banks’ other delivery channels.

Seeing IT as a Means
Not an End

Essentially, developers need to help bridge the gap between IT and business and develop a worldview that includes the business environment and recognizes that IT is the means and not the end. In career terms, this is one of the most important catalysts to progression.

To do this, techies should challenge the status quo and find new and different ways of achieving results. This cannot happen until there is a clear understanding of the end-users’ needs. And I am convinced this is increasingly happening, especially as more people form disciplines outside engineering, such as those with a liberal arts background, enter the IT arena and have successful careers designing and writing application software.

What’s more, IT offers a career even to those who do not have an engineering background. You do not necessarily have to be an engineer to be in IT services. Similarly, application software designing and writing doesn’t only need engineering students. There have been many successful examples of people from disciplines such as liberal arts, who have done out-of-the-box thinking and achieved great results.