Observations from the 2014 JAMF National User Conference

I just returned from the 2014 JAMF National User Conference (JNUC) last night. This was my third JNUC and I have always taken away so much knowledge from each.

The annual JNUC is a chance for Macintosh administrators from around the world to get together and share tips, tricks, and stories from their own uses of Casper, JAMF’s management tool for Macs and mobile devices.

I thought I’d share a few thoughts and observations from a number of the presentations that really spoke to me.

During the opening keynote, Chief Technology Officer Jason Wudi provided a couple of quotes that rang true.

Early on he was talking about many of the challenges that JAMF had gone through trying to take such a massive system like Casper and keep it easy to use.

It’s simple to make things that are complex and hard to make complex things simple.

It reminded me of the old line, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”[1]

While talking about the next version of the JAMF Distribution System (JDS). Anticipating the question of when people would get to use it he said,

When will it ship? When it’s ready.

Too often in IT we need to ship our 1.0 now figuring we’ll clean it up and make it better/easier/prettier in the next release. But we rarely have time to get back to it later. It’s important that we take the time to test for usability before it goes to the public whenever possible.

The next presentation I saw was by Mike Harris of RMIT University entitled “Ways to Avoid Using the Dreaded ‘M’ Word.” (‘M’ stood for ‘Management’) In a six week window, he and his team deployed over 900 computers. On its own that is an impressive feat. What impressed me more was that from the top down they made a decision to “design [this roll-out] based on needs, not consistency with other platforms or historical policies.” They asked themselves, “What would annoy us if someone imposed it on our machines.” They chose to enforce fewer restrictions and instead of managing the computers they were able to focus on creating a knowledge base, creating champions within the staff to handle more issues, and close most tickets at lower levels.

If we aren’t managing, what are we doing? Providing services.

One presentation I went to was “Add Pop and Practicality with a Clean User Interface” by Arek Sokol. As soon as it began I realized I had seen his presentation last year. While it had been one of my top three[2] favorites, I was about to leave and move on to one of the other sessions when I heard him say something. Since I was packing up I didn’t catch the exact quote, but he mentioned how in past deployments a number of help desk tickets had focused on how the interface worked. By making the dialogs more interactive and provide more information, “adoption rate [this time] is over 90%.”

That’s when I decided to listen.

A number of his points reflected my own “Whack-a-Mole” theory: the more dialog boxes you throw up, the faster your Astronauts will get around them just to move on. Anyone remembering the early days of Vista will remember how many problems that caused.

In a wonderful moment of serendipity, I managed to meet the presenter of my favorite[2] talk from last year at the networking event.

“Teaching Students Ethics and Responsibility Through the Use of Technology” by Damien Barrett was the highlight of last year’s JNUC. He described how at Montclair Kimberley Academy in New Jersey, every student starts out as an admin of their own machine. From there, they have one month to read the “Driver’s Manual” and take the test or get demoted to a standard user. He also has his “Laptop Leadership Group” consisting of students who take additional certification tests to become part of the team that repairs and maintains the laptops for the school.

Another year later and the program is still going strong and growing.

My big takeaway from the 2014 event was the reminder that it’s important that we make technology so that it’s easy to use and that those of us who support it are as well.

“You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology – not the other way around” ~ Steve Jobs

1. The quote is commonly attributed to Mark Twain, though I’ve seen it attributed to Blaise Pascal and Voltaire as well. Twain was somewhat known from borrowing from others, so…

2. My second favorite presentation from last year was “Getting Users to Do Your Job (Without Them Knowing It)” by Andrina Kelly. I don’t think you need me to explain that one.

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