User. To quote Wikipedia ‘Users in a computing context refers to one who _uses_ a computer system’. Already we are lost. Already, we have a split between the user and the computer. Here, in the word user, we see the essence of the business/IT divide in all its perpetual wonder.
Despite frequent calls for a replacement term – I particular like Jimmy Guterman’s ‘don’t call me a user’ request for a user-generated superior term to user – the word stubbornly persists.
On the other side of the user coin is the term ‘IT system’. If only there was a deep wishing well one could throw all these coins into and magic up a new more valuable currency for the digital economy.
Well, having taken on the mantle of a fairy godmother once already in this the season of the pantomime, I would like to offer as an alternative – ‘participant’:
As a participant in an information system to achieve a goal, it’s the combination of the information in my head and the information in the computer that counts.
What’s interesting is by changing this one concept one almost automatically has to consider different management practices.
Organisations which see themselves as ‘users of IT’ tend to use management practices based around techniques such as:
– Optimisation of the parts
– Theory X management
– The Organisational Model
– Business Processes
– Stability & Predictability
– Change Management
– As-Is and To-Be Grand Designs

However, the organisations that see themselves as information systems – i.e. which do a ‘find and replace’ on the word user for participant across their corporate consciousness – might just find themselves starting to naturally adopt management practices such as these:
– Optimisation of the whole
– Theory Y management
– The Social-Enterprise Model
– Value Systems
– Agility & Innovation
– Adoption Engineering
– Agile planning and execution

In the turbulent times ahead, perhaps above everything else agility is going to be key. And agility needs participants, not users.
So, here is a tech prediction for 2009 – or to be more precise a social-technical prediction – 2009: the end of the user and the year of the participant!
ps – you might wish to try out using participant instead of user for a day, and see where it gets you…