Not giving a hoot about 'user centric'

* The terminoloy 'user centric' is getting in the way

I trust everyone made it through the holiday season reasonably well. Now it's time to get to the "prediction season," when all the pundits try to fashion a prognostication that's a little over the top but still has a chance of occurring. I'll get to my predictions next week, right now I'd like to offer one from my friend at Digital ID World, Eric Norlin, who believes that in 2008 "'user-centric' identity protocols will stop calling themselves 'user-centric'."

His reasoning/rationale is that: "'User-centric' protocols will gain some actual adoption in 2008 (yes, I'm implying that they haven't yet gotten any ‘real’ adoption). In so doing, the ‘folks in the know’ in that movement will *stop* prefacing everything they say with the words ‘user-centric,’ as they realize that their protocols may have been designed with that laudable goal in mind, but the terminology is just getting in the way. Instead of describing an ideal, they'll begin describing what they *do.*"

This echoes a discussion that was raging in the blogosphere last month. Norlin’s erstwhile colleague at Ping Identity, Patrick Harding, mused about “user-centric” identity in the enterprise. After a few rounds of give-and-take, the always level-headed Pamela Dingle (of the Pamela Project) delivered what I consider the final thought on this topic:“If you take all of the tools out there that have had the ‘user-centric’ tag associated with them, and try to shoehorn any one of them into an enterprise based on the moniker alone, I will laugh at you, as one IT professional to another. Really, I will. The idea that ‘user-centric’ has to mean anything at all in an enterprise context, just makes no sense. My advice to enterprise decision-makers is simple: take the tools and find out if there is a story that those tools can tell that brings value to the organization. If the story is there, adopt the tool. If the story isn’t there, walk away. Whether or not the marketing term applies is, to me, utterly inconsequential.”

The “user centric” mantra is becoming to identity what the “religious” wars of the 1980s and 90s (DEC vs. Sun, Windows vs. OS/2, Novell vs. Microsoft, etc.) were to hardware and operating systems – more of a distraction than anything. We need to choose the tool that solves the problem, no matter who makes it, no matter what it’s called. If doing so means we drop the moniker “user centric,” then so be it. The tools will still work just as well.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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