Hardware

Don't waste your time supporting problems that don't exist

Anticipating your users' problems is great, but make sure you're addressing a real need. A recent encounter I had with a vendor serves as a cautionary tale against make-work.

We're moving some staff into a new suite of offices, which means that we're shopping for new furniture. This is also a great opportunity for us to choose some new workstation equipment to standardize on, and I've been talking with a very competent sales rep that has been helping us pick out new keyboard trays and task seating.

I ran into a problem with the demo keyboard tray that our sales rep, Kurt, left for me to evaluate. I decided to leave him an email, even though I knew that he was going to be on vacation. Kurt's really customer-focused, and even though he was out of the office, he saw my email and asked his OEM contact to give me a call.

The OEM's rep, Jim, came out and replaced a worn part on the key tray that Kurt had left with me, and he must have smelled an opportunity. After getting some background on what our plans were for our new offices, Jim started up-selling me.

His company makes articulating display arms as well as keyboard decks and chairs, and Jim came on really strong about the ergonomic advantages of getting the computer's display off of the desk. I told him that all of the LCDs that we have in our department already offer significant adjustability: height, tilt, pan — they'll even rotate from a landscape orientation to operate in portrait mode. So, I told Jim that I think the equipment we have has been fitting my users pretty well. In response, Jim broke out one of his brochures. It showed how a display arm can let users reclaim their work surfaces for other purposes...laying out papers, and things like that. Well, Jim made a persuasive case, and I let him leave me a display arm to try out around the office.

Once I'd installed the display arm, I started inviting people into my office to try it out. I was expecting that a lot of my users would respond favorably to the setup, you know, because of all that space on my desk surface I had reclaimed. Quite the opposite occurred, surprisingly. Everyone was completely underwhelmed by the 'advantages' the display arm provided. After inquiring why they weren't more excited by the demonstration, I realized that articulating display arms solve a problem that we don't have.

No one has ever complained to me about their display cluttering their desk too much. In fact, my users seem to welcome even more clutter, as long as there's a reason for it; to benefit from the increased productivity that comes with having a second display, for instance. I had bought into Jim's hype, and thought that he could provide a solution to an actual problem, one that I was afraid I had missed. I'm glad I actually looked beyond the pitch and asked for feedback from my users. I was saved a lot of expense and installation headaches that would have come from an over-engineered solution to a non-existent problem.

It's good to be out in front of things, and to try and anticipate your clients' needs. Take a moment, though, and talk to a focus group of your users. This will help you make sure that you're on target with your assessment of their situation, and keep you from buying a white elephant.

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