I blogged on this question in October and no one commented, so either no one has any brilliant ideas or I’m the only one obsessing about this. I was running some internet searches today on another topic, using various words like “user”, “client”, “customer”, and ran across this little article on CIO.com: “What Do the Words User, Partner, Customer and Client Really Mean?”. Ah hah! Someone else out there does think this is important. Mr. Meyer states, “How important is semantics? Very! Language affects the way we think.” He then goes on to analyze the positive and negative connotations of each of the labels.
I don’t love any of them; I can only arrive at an answer using a process of elimination. From the worst to the best, I’ll start with “the business”, which creates an unnecessary divide and removes IT from shared accountability for results. Next worst would be “user”, which as Mr. Meyer states in the article, evokes images of drug addicts and sociopaths and labels people as “powerless dependents”. “Partner” is becoming more common, but the word’s meaning elevates IT to a level where they would have more ownership over decisions and accountability for results than they do in reality. “Customer” is a favorite, but it is confused with end-customers and, as Meyer states, creates some distance between the individuals. By process of elimination, and assuming there are no other good choices, “client” seems to be the best term. Coming from a professional services background myself, “client” feels like a good combination of a close working relationship between parties where the buyer has ultimate authority. Few of my clients use the term client yet, but I suspect we’ll see it more with time.