In product development, an end user (sometimes end-user) is a person who ultimately uses or is intended to ultimately use a product. The end user stands in contrast to users who support or maintain the product, such as sysops, system administrators, database administrators, information technology experts, software professionals and computer technicians. End users typically do not possess the technical understanding or skill of the product designers, a fact that is easy for designers to forget or overlook, leading to features with which the customer is dissatisfied. In information technology, end users are not "customers" in the usual sense—they are typically employees of the customer. For example, if a large retail corporation buys a software package for its employees to use, even though the large retail corporation was the "customer" which purchased the software, the end users are the employees of the company who will use the software at work.
Certain American defense-related products and information require export approval from the United States Government under the ITAR and EAR. In order to obtain a license to export, the exporter must specify both the end user and end use using an end-user certificate. In End-User License Agreements (EULAs), the end user is distinguished from the value-added reseller that installs the software or the organization that purchases and manages the software. In the UK, there exist documents that accompany licenses for products named end user undertaking (EUU).
End-users are one of the three major factors contributing to the complexity of managing information systems. The end user's position has changed from a position in the 1950s (where end users did not interact with the mainframe; computer experts programmed and ran the mainframe) to one in the 2010s where the end user collaborates with and advises the management information system and Information Technology department about his or her needs regarding the system or product. This raises new questions such as: Who manages each resource? What is the role of the MIS Despartment? What is the optimal relationship between the end user and MIS Despartment?
The concept of "end user" first surfaced in the late 1980s and has since then raised many debates. One challenge is that the goal is to give the user both more freedom, by adding advanced features and functions (for more advanced users) and adding more constraints (to prevent a neophyte user from accidentally erasing an entire company's database). This phenomenon appeared as a consequence of "consumerization" of computer products and software. In the 1960s and 1970s, computer users were generally programming experts and computer scientists. However, in the 1980s, and especially in the mid-to late 1990s and the early 2000s, everyday, regular people began using computer devices and software for personal and work use. IT specialists need to cope with this trend in various ways. In the 2010s, users now want to have more control over the systems they operate, so they solve their own problems and be able to change, customize and "tweak" the systems to suit their needs. The drawback would be the risk of corruption of the systems and data the user has control of due to his or her lack of knowledge on how to properly operate the computer or software at an advanced level.
For companies to appeal to the user, they take care to accommodate and think of end users in their new products, software launches and updates. A partnership needs to be formed between the programmer-developers and the everday end users so that both parties can make the most out of the products. Public libraries have been affected by new technologies in many ways, ranging from the digitalization of their card catalog and the shift to e-books and e-journals and offering online services. Libraries have had to undergo many changes in order to cope, including training existing librarians in Web 2.0 and database skills and hiring IT and software experts.
End user documentation
The aim of end user documentation (e.g., manuals and guidebooks for products) is to help the user understand certain aspects of the systems and to provide all the answers in one place. A lot of documentation is available for users to help them understand and properly use a certain product or service. Due to the fact that the information available is usually very vast, inconsistent or ambiguous (e.g., a user manual with hundreds of pages, including guidance on using advanced features), many users suffer from an information overload. Therefore, they become unable to take the right course of action. This needs to be kept in mind when developing products and services and the necessary documentation for them.
Well written documentation is needed that the user can use when he needs to. Some key aspects of such a documentation are:
- Specific titles and subtitles for subsections to aid the reader in finding sections
- Use of videos, annotated screenshots, text and links to help the reader understand how to use the device or program
- Structured provision of information, which goes from the most basic instructions, written in plain language, without specialist jargon or acronyms, progressing to the information that intermediate or advanced users will need (these sections can include jargon and acronyms, but each new term should be defined or spelled out upon its first use)
- Easy to search the help guide, find information and access information
- Clear end results are described to the reader (e.g.,"When the program is installed properly, an icon will appear in the left-hand corner of your screen and the LED will turn on...")
- Detailed, numbered steps, to enable users with a range of proficiency levels (from novice to advanced) to go step-by-step to install, use and troubleshoot the product or service
- Unique Uniform Resource Locator (URLs) so that the user can go to the product website to find additional help and resources.
At times users do not refer to the documentation available to them due to various reasons, ranging from finding the manual too large or due to not understanding the jargon and acronyms it contains. In other cases, the users may find that the manual makes too many assumptions about a user having pre-existing knowledge of computers and software, and thus the directions may "skip over" these initial steps (from the users' point of view). Thus, frustrated user may report false problems because of their inability to understand the software or computer hardware. This in turn causes the company to focus on “perceived” problems instead of focusing on the “actual” problems of the software.
In the 2010s, there is a lot of emphasis on user's security and privacy. With the increasing role that computers are playing in people's lives, people are carrying laptops and smartphones with them and using them for scheduling appointments, making online purchases using credit cards and searching for information. These activities can potentially be observed by companies, governments or individuals, which can lead to breaches of privacy, identity theft, fraud, blackmailing and other serious concerns. As well, many businesses, ranging from small business startups to huge corporations are using computers and software to design, manufacture, market and sell their products and services, and businesses also use computers and software in their back office processes (e.g., human resources, payroll, etc.). As such, it is important for people and organizations to need know that the information and data they are storing, using, or sending over computer networks or storing on computer systems is secure.
However, developers of software and hardware are faced with many challenges in developing a system that can be both user friendly, accessible 24/7 on almost any device and be truly secure. Security leaks happen, even to individuals and organizations that have security measures in place to protect their data and information (e.g., firewalls, encryption, strong passwords, etc.). The complexities of creating such a secure system come from the fact that the behaviour of humans is not always rational or predictable. Even in a very-well secured computer system, a malicious individual can telephone a worker and pretend to be a private investigator working for the software company, and ask for the individual's password, a dishonest process called "phishing". As well, even with a well-secured system, if a worker decides to put the company's electronic files on a USB drive to take them home to work on them over the weekend (against many company's policies), and then she or he loses this USB drive, then the company's data may be compromised. Therefore, developers need to make systems that are intuitive to the user in order to have information security and system security.
Another key step to end user security is informing the people and employees about the security threats and what they can do to avoid them or protect themselves and the organization. Underlining clearly the capabilities and risks makes users more aware and informed whilst they are using the products.
Some situations that could put the user at risk are:
- Auto-logon as administrator options
- Auto-fill options, in which a computer or program "remembers" a user's personal information and HTTP "cookies"
- Opening junk emails of suspicious emails and/or opening/running attachments or computer files contained in these
- Email can be monitored by third parties, especially when using Wi-Fi connections
- Unsecure Wi-Fi or use of a public Wi-Fi network at a coffee shop or hotel
- Weak passwords (using a person's own name, own birthdate, name or birthdate of children, or easy-to-guess passwords such as "1234")
- Malicious programs such as viruses
Even if the security measures in place are strong, the choices the user makes and his/her behaviour have a major impact on how secure their information really is. Therefore, an informed user is one who can protect and achieve the best security out of the system they use. Because of the importance of end-user security and the impact it can have on organisations the UK government set out a guidance for the public sector, to help civil servants learn how to be more security aware when using government networks and computers. While this is targeted to a certain sector, this type of educational effort can be informative to any type of user. This helps developers meet security norms and end users be aware of the risks involved.
End user undertaking (EUU) is a document saying who the user is, why they are using a product and where they live (or where they work). This document needs to be completed and signed by a person in a position of authority who is in the end user business. All documents should be in English or if not so accompanied by a valid English translation. Usually the EUU is sent together with the product license.