ComputerWord Article Bringing In The Users

Bringing in the users
Natalie Engler

In one corner, its the technologists who build the information systems. In the opposite corner, the people who use them. They speak different languages and inhabit different worlds, but they need one another for any technology project to succeed.

A survey last month of more than 300 IS executives cited ``lack of user involvement'' as the chief reason IS projects fail. It ranked even higher than lack of executive management support and clear business objectives, according to The Standish Group International, Inc., a market research firm in Dennis, Mass.



Evelyn Ashe, configuration control technician and Vadene Echols, configuration engineer, Williams Technologies, Inc., a Summerville, S.C., automatic transmission remanufacturing company

Project: ProNet, a control valve body operation

Duration: four months

Number of users involved: five

The project doubled productivity, nearly halved cycle times, helped quadruple sales and resulted in system sales to Ford Motor Co. and Allison Transmission, Inc.

When Greg Allen, head of IS at Williams Technologies, began working on a system to computerize the manufacturing of automotive transmissions, he was dependent on users such as Echols and Ashe for their industry knowledge.

In the beginning, many users were daunted by the technology and feared they might lose their jobs. Later, they became enthusiastic participants.

Here's what they say turned them around:

Once Allen selected his users, he told each what he hoped to accomplish and what they had to offer.

``Greg said I had quite a bit of knowledge about production and what people were looking for,'' says Ashe, who supervised the assembly of valve body transmissions.

Allen explained the technology in terms that they could relate to.

He had them train him to perform their jobs, then he used analogies to explain the technology. He told Echols that the Open Access database was like the thousands of books of assembly instructions she had to pore through to build each transmission. The hard drive, he said, was like a file drawer. The RAM is like a desktop, and ``you take the stuff out of your file cabinet, put it on your desktop and put it away when you are finished.'' Once he presented it, the benefits were evident, she says.

The project altered both women's careers.

Ashe was promoted from the valve body assembly line to engineering, where she builds databases for all the transmissions the company makes. Echols says she has doubled her productivity.

The project included a feedback mechanism.

The factory floor system lets users give input to the engineering team. It also captures the tricks people develop as they use a manufacturing station so new operators can benefit from their experience.



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