IT Systems are tools and tools are used by humans in order to do something. Therefore, tools are always means not objectives. We use a tool because it is more effective and efficient to use it than to use other tools or simply no tools at all (if possible). Rationally thinking, the more usable tools the better the results we get. But is it this so straightforward?. Generally , yes. Although it was a tool-focused analysis. What If we see the problem from the human (human action) point of view?. Humans are driven by incentives, and these incentives are balanced among multiple things such outcome of action, costs and motivation. What happens when tools are more usable? Does a new tool change the set of incentives?
I’ll try to explain it using an example:
Automobiles are tools used by millions to transport themselves. Conventional wisdom tell us that bigger and heavier cars or trucks (like large pick-ups or SUVs) are safer (that is they make better tools for ground transportation). Facts show that it’s false. There are multiple reasons but one of them is behavioural; SVUs drivers are (on average) more aggressive drivers. Thus, the confidence and apparent security of these vehicles make drivers less careful and risky. One of my favourite american economists (David Friedman) has suggested that if we really want to reduce the crashes on our roads and streets we should better attach a hand grenade wired to a collision detector. It’s sounds crazy but, of course, we don’t have empirical data to probe it. On the other hand, the NHTSA statistics shown that safety regulations on safety had not a dramatic impact on car accidents(Regardless the ratios has decreased over the time).
Are information systems different? My point is that they aren’t. So, in absence of regulations imposed by governments, a system designer should take in account not only the usability, ergonomics or friendly interfaces, but also in terms of incentives of target users. The objective of systems (within an organization) is to improve the overall productivity and effectiveness. A simple-to-use system/interface (a for dummies system) could be suitable from a technological point of view but it could make users less productive, careful (as we saw in the SVU example) or omit some relevant control topics. Actully because most users are not dummies, specially those more productive and trained.
StrategIT Tip: When planning, evaluating or designing a system think first in the people and incentives from target users. Tools are only means not ends.