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Leaving the nest is almost always more traumatic for parents than children. After about two decades of worrying every time your children stay out late, dye their hair blue, or drive with wild inappropriate friends, they are off on their own, free to choose their own fate in their own way. You know you taught them well and you should be okay, even pleased, to have them on their own, but how can someone just a few short years out of diapers deal with the difficult and sometimes nasty realities of the world? On their own they might buy an SUV—which you tried to teach them is proletarian, prone to roll-overs, and detrimental to the environment. With your years of experience you could get your children the best price on an appropriate vehicle, ensure that they provide you with grand children that all get accepted by Ivy League universities, and get them to invest for a happy retirement in the golf community where you plan to spend your golden years.

IT departments have traditionally fostered a parent-child relationship with their users. At one time, when computers were large, expensive central resources, which could only be understood and managed by specialized gurus, that was an appropriate relationship. You never saw your users grow up because they have always been grown up. But computers have changed. They have been out of diapers for some time now, and your users are ready to leave your IT nest and have a relationship with them with much less IT involvement, as uneasy as that makes you feel. Users will still come to you for help, just as your adult children may still come to you for money and even occasional advice, but once out of the nest, users and children alike need your support, not your control. IT will change from being less the CEO of their users to being more a consultant to them.

For users, leaving the nest has been a slow process with IT departments often pulling back on the apron strings. Personal computers took IT out of computer center basements and put it on the desktops of users. For a time, some IT departments responded with diskless PCs. Why should users have complex operating systems, applications, and their own files on their desktops? They’d be sure to get into trouble. Of course users have gotten into trouble just as children skin their knees and ding the family car and we hope not too much worse. Even if users sometimes put orange text on an orange background, fail to back up critical files, use a search engine that you know is not the best, or claim to know more about IT than you do, they need empathy, not reproach. IT can be difficult stuff.

Enterprise portals have the potential to free users to be much more on their own than ever before possible. Even more liberating, users can personalize their portal pages to reflect the way each one of them prefers to work. Portals, self-service applications, and the trend towards Web services that can be tailored by users will have users largely determining their own IT environment, a function previously the exclusive purview of IT departments. IT staff will be faced with supporting users, every one of whom might have a unique amalgamation of applications, fonts, skins, and profiles on their screens. This will be a challenging change to deal with, but there is no choice. Users are ready to try their IT wings and nothing will stop them for long.

Personalization may be a trend, but is it really essential for users or just an expensive, little-used convenience? Why not let the IT experts design Web application layouts, fonts, colors, and so forth as they always have? D'es it really improve productivity to have users choose a raspberry kiwi color scheme, as they can in my.lycos ? under “Your Account” lets you correct your birth date and address. Can your users do that? My.excite gives you 14 themes and 22 color schemes, and lets you personalize the content and layout, and add custom links. Canon’s current ads stress customization. “The Canon imageRUNNER is flexible and can be customized to address your business requirements.” Some video games allow you to be part of them.

Henry Ford offered his model T in “any colour you like as long as it’s black.” When cars were in their infancy that was fine, but as cars and car users became more sophisticated, car buyers demanded more features and more ways to personalize their cars. The concept 2005 Ford Mustang has an instrument panel with a user-configurable choice of 125 colors. Most paint suppliers offer computerized paint matching services. Bring in any object and they’ll match its color with one of a zillion colors they create on the spot. People are happier and work better when they’re in control.

You want the most choice when you buy a car, decorate a house, or arrange your computer desktop. So do your users. Comcast advertises their video on demand offering with the slogan, “TV has a new schedule…Yours!” You’d think giving users over 150 professionally programmed channels would satisfy them. But viewers are asking for video on demand, the ability to switch cameras during sporting events, and more control over their entire viewing experience. You’ve done a great job making your users ready for this next step. Let them go with your best wishes for their wonderful future.

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