The UXP Opportunity

This article is a set of ‘arguments’ for corporate investment in Usability — circa 2005.  I was attempting to address organizational needs with common-sense, as well as vision. This paper was oriented towards a brokerage firm.

As companies “cut out the middleman” and move their business to the Web, eCommerce and B2B sites, we must create a delightful, compelling experience for our workforce and customers in order to remain competitive. But how?

We’ve become a computer-literate society.  Now we expect technology to work for us – on our terms.  Our acceptance of this new technology is predicated upon two simple questions:  Is it useful to me? and Is it easy to use?  We’re talking about User-Centered Design.  The answer lies with The User Experience Practice (UXP).

  • The corporate IT shop has evolved. It must now compete as a professional software design house.
  • The corporate business-technology process must now integrate a “user-centered” design
  • The design component (UXP) is the primary determinant of success in the interactive marketplace.

The Business Benefits of Usability

The question facing a financial enterprise is not “If” or even When” we should make a commitment to developing a strong User Experience Practice – It is “How.”   So, let’s get down to business.

IT drives Growth

Government statistics indicate that one-third of the overall real growth in the U.S. is now attributed to IT, and IT will continue to be the “engine of continued economic growth” for decades to come.  That indicates a huge business opportunity.  Combining hardware, software, networks and the people needed for computer support and training, the total spending on IT in 1996 was approximately $500 billion in the U.S. and more than $1 trillion worldwide.

Yet something’s Missing …

In recent decades, productivity growth in the seven richest nations has fallen from an average of 4.5% per year in the 1960s to a rate of 1.5% in recent years. The slowdown has hit the biggest IT spenders — service-sector industries, especially in the U.S.   US office workers “futz” with their machines an average of 5.1 hours each week, costing American businesses $100 billion annually in lost productivity.  In fact, 50% of all technology projects fail to meet chief executives’ expectations.

IT shops are producing plenty of software. Increasingly business success is based on success in the interactive marketplace.  But the products produced in IT shops just don’t quite come up to the design standards we’ve come to expect.

What’s missing?  Usability.

Usability is the Competitive Edge

It is estimated that productivity within the service sector would rise 4% – 9% annually if every software program were designed for usability.

In recent months the IT arena has undergone a sea change in terms of the industry’s understanding of the role of usability.  The User Experience Practice, which was long considered a “value added” nice-to-have by IT shops, is now recognized as an essential success factor.  The research has been done, the results are in.

The benefits of usability include:

  • Increased productivity
  • Decreased training and support costs
  • Increased sales and revenues
  • Reduced development time and costs
  • Reduced maintenance costs
  • Increased customer satisfaction

In recent years the corporate IT department has become a software development shop. The design mandate has evolved from technical implementation to customer satisfaction. The development team already knows how to deliver functional code. The new challenge is to deliver ease-of-use.

What’s the main difference between an IT shop (that creates products that we have to use) and a professional software development house (that creates products that we actually want to use)?

A commitment to Usability.

The Competitive Challenge

That’s why the enterprise IT shop must now embrace UXP (the User Experience Practice).  The emergence of Interaction Design as a skilled position marks the coming of age of the traditional IT working environment. Perhaps more importantly, it assumes an organizational vision that anticipates the future and a commitment to change the way we work.

In an increasingly complex and competitive online environment, Usability defines success.

This presents a new set of organizational and management challenges to the enterprise that wishes to embrace the next level of professionalism.  The question is: How quickly and effectively can the enterprise IT shop respond to newly identified opportunities?

  • Understand what the Customer wants to accomplish (User-centered Design)
  • Be clear about what the enterprise wants to accomplish (Clear Task Focus)
  • Enable “agile design” (Make the User Experience Practice a Guiding Force in the IT development process)

The Market Opportunity:  An Example

Recent research shows that Financial Services enterprise has an opportunity to strengthen their relationship with their wealthiest clients.  Although the majority of “Mass affluent” households are more risk averse and less likely to trade online than they were 5 years ago, those investors who do use online brokerages today are an exceptional market:

  • They have greater assets.
  • They are likelier to trade online.
  • Their satisfaction with the site is very important to their satisfaction with the firm.

Clearly, this is an opportunity for the financial services firm that offers online services.  Many brokerage sites still deliver unacceptable experience.

Here are a few suggestions for creating a more successful brokerage site:

Fast-Track Navigation

Simpler, more straightforward, goal-oriented.  The sooner I can achieve my goal, the more I trust the system.

Influential Guidance

Providing “neutral” data simply means “information overload” if you don’t also actively aid me in making a decision.

Context-sensitive info

Give me appropriate links and cross-referenced materials that successfully anticipate my customer needs.  (This is also an excellent opportunity for cross-selling related products and services.)

Collaborative assistance

Leverage the full range of brokerage resources by having advisors work with me online.

This example demonstrates some of the salient attributes of user experience-driven design:  A focus on user goals, a clear understanding of user workflow, proactive helpfulness, an appreciation for environment and a sense of community.

The Agile Design Solution

Traditional IT product development follows a procedural, linear “waterfall” path based upon dependent decision points.  New information and ideas can be introduced, but – as a general rule – the further you are along the development path, the harder it is to implement change.  As a result, conventional IT processes often fail to respond to user needs that emerge during the development process.  And – in reality – that’s when most of them do emerge.  Paper pictures and conceptual graphics can be helpful in providing some idea of the big picture “vision thing”, but the fact of the matter is that most of us don’t really “see” things until we can push, poke and prod a multidimensional prototype model.

The IT shop needs to develop “agile”, responsive design processes that are focused on fulfilling the user’s goals.  The key to this approach is the active integration of the User Experience Practice as a vital, guiding aspect of the IT development process. Recent metaphors, including “collaborative design” and “Rapid Application Development” propose to integrate UX skills more seamlessly into the total design lifecycle.  Usability techniques aren’t just a “coat of paint” that can be slapped on in order to make up for design weaknesses.

The advantages of agile design:

  • Act on new design information continually rather than sporadically
  • Keep design options open throughout the development lifecycle

Practical Design Technique

Agile Design demands that we implement appropriate tools:

Live simulation models

High fidelity prototypes that demonstrate emulate the look, feel and behavior of a “real” site.  This allows designers to test assumptions and users to get an unambiguous and accurate sense of the product that they will use.

Integrated documentation

Embed requirements information both in the model and in an accessible design–oriented document.  Use these to capture requirements “on the fly” in order to ensure that user needs and goals are communicated as they evolve.

Use the interactive platform

Publish your prototypes, along with relevant documentation, on a URL and then email your stakeholders with alerts to inform them of updates.  It’s an easy way to reach out to a widely dispersed audience of stakeholders.

UXP “owns” the presentation layer

Enable your development team to handle changes to the user interface effectively by separating the “presentation” and “application” layers. Allow programmers to handle what they do well:  logic and process code.  Allow UXP to manage the surface presentational elements: graphics, HTML, screen behaviors, styles.

Site Evaluations

Leverage the User Experience Practice’s ability to provide design insights early on the development curve.  A preliminary evaluation of your legacy site – or competitor products – gives you a quick take on what’s good, what’s bad and what’s missing.

 

The UXP Role

At a higher level, the enterprise must evolve internal organizational structure and management skills in order to effectively integrate the User Experience Practice across all of these areas

Presentation

(Customer-oriented) Style, design, usage profiles

  •  “identity”

Maintenance

(Document-centric) Create & maintain the building blocks, standards

  •  “efficiency”

Process

(Environmental) Establish organizational systems, workflow

  •  “agility & integration”

Strategy

(Management-driven) Forward-looking, brainstorming, prototypes

  •  “vision”

Education

(Knowledge-based) Evangelism, advocacy, mentoring

  •  “understanding”

 

Opportunities

In addition to the design opportunities described above, the User Experience Practice makes a difference  in all of these areas:

The Dream Team

  • Trans-discipline Brainstorming group explores new ideas, What-if / Why-not?,   Design Playpen

QwikStrike

  • A small, agile, highly skilled RAD (Rapid Application Development) design team that liases directly with clients and stakeholders to provide a tangible vision of the solution early on in the process

The Community Portal

  • Design Platform focuses on: Interoperability; Integration among business groups; Graceful inclusion of out-of-house products & services; Common look, feel & behavior

Design Resource Center

  • Enterprise-wide design Standards library of centralized data, core business entities, design templates and re-usable code; UXP Support  for development teams

Training & Education

  • Enable “support services” for new users & rollouts; Knowledge transfer; Consensus building; Customer Assistence Enhance usability & cohesiveness; Enable delivery of “intranet” sevices, education, employee self-service

Media Maven

  • Leverage appropriate “alternative” technology platforms, s.a. video, handheld devices, telephone; Repurposing

Decision Support

  • Visualization tools,  “scenario engines” for strategic modeling and “what if”

Private Label

  • Engineer software products so that they can be repackaged and marketed across the “B2B” arena.

Personalization

  • Effectively leverage user, customer and visitor information to allow a “one-to-one” relationship

Customer Acceptance

  • Ease stakeholder buy-in, product/service upgrades, new users, feedback, usability testing

 

 

© The Communication Studio LLC

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