“We use Google…to find out about our own company”

Using 3rd party tools to find what I wantYou wouldn’t believe the number of times I have heard people say that when they want to find out about their own company, they use Google

Case in point – I was at a well-known appliance store the other day, that has branches throughout the country.I asked the girl at the checkout whether there was a store in one particular city. While she looked furtively at her screen, I took a peek over her shoulder. It was the company’s intranet. I advised her to open up a new tab in her browser, go to Google, and type in the name of the store plus the word “branches”. She obediently followed my instructions, and two minutes later she was able to give me an answer.

I won’t talk about the magic that Google performs to bring you the information that you want. I do want to talk, however, about why people are going to an outside facility rather than using the companies own resource…findability  and usability.

Findability does not just mean being able to search for something and getting results. It also means that the information on the intranet is structured in a logical way that allows people to navigate to information quickly. Often, little thought has gone into the way information should be presented:

  • What information do the users (in this case all staff ranging from back office workers to those at the client interface) need access to?
    Analytics will show you what is being accessed the most. Well thought surveys can return valuable information. Even talking to staff members individually,or in groups, can add a lot of value.
  • How can the navigation structure be set up so that it is intuitive?
    Use the feedback you got. Perform a card sort to help build up a understanding of how the staff want information grouped. Put together a “mock navigation”,using a suitable tool such as Optimal’s Treejack, and see how easy it is for user’s to find what they are looking for.
  • What other ways are there that the information can be accessed quickly? Short-cuts, quick links, FAQs.
    Create a screen mock-up, and test how easy it is for staff to find the information. Use a tool that allows this to be simulated on-line, and set up real-life scenarios involving staff members with different functions to determine whether improvements can be made.
  • Pay attention to the questions that are often asked by staff.
    These will usually turn up questions that get repeatedly asked. “How is xyz done?”, “Where do I find information on our widgets?”. These questions make up the basis for the FAQs or a wiki.

 

Should we brand our Intranet?

IntranetLocation:    LinkedIn SharePoint Users Group
Date:           2 days ago
Situation:   Jodi Stevens, a Web Content Specialist” put a question to the group…

 

Just curious how many brand their intranets beyond the basics like changing themes?

 

At the time I read it, there were already two responses. I added my own…

It’s an interesting discussion – whether to brand, or not.

With regards SharePoint, Microsoft’s Jeff Teper – senior vice president for SharePoint, advises…

“Use SharePoint as an out-of-box application whenever possible — We designed the new SharePoint UI to be clean, simple and fast and work great out-of-box. We encourage you not to modify it which could add complexity, performance and upgradeability and to focus your energy on working with users and groups to understand how to use SharePoint to improve productivity and collaboration and identifying and promoting best practices in your organization.”

However, and this is something that Dan Adams touched upon, you need to think about the purpose of the Intranet. Is it just a file-share-replacement? or is it a focus point for staff members to learn about the company, about each other, as well as to engage them and to foster exchange of ideas?A “branded” intranet, if done properly, can achieve the latter. I say “if done properly” because a “hack-job” can result in a something worse than a plain vanilla install. To do it properly, it is essentially to have, not only developers who know what can be changed without breaking something, but also a designer with UX/UI skills. These make for a very pleasant user experience, and one that helps the intranet align with the company values, as well as being somewhere that people “want” to go to when they turn their computers on first thing in the morning.

At the same time, a good Information Architecture (IA) helps, enormously, with usability and findability. Often, when an intranet is created, items and content are put into places “that make sense…at the time. Then as more things are added, they are placed either “where it makes sense for the person adding it”, or a new grouping is created. As time flows forward, the intranet becomes more and more complex. Having an IA that is usable, as well as maintainable, requires a lot of work, but can make a big difference to the system.

The Intranet can also act as a file share replacement. There are many benefits to this. Being able to label content as well as apply extra metadata to it, adds considerable value. Content can be grouped more effectively, and can be surfaced (through search functionality) in a way that has more meaning to the end-user. However, here also, great care must be taken. A suitable taxonomy should be created, as well as a way that allows content to be correctly labelled. Otherwise you end up with the original file share – just in a different format.

Underpinning all this.. some form of governance is important. This is what ensures that the intranet remains that great place that it started out as, rather than degenerating into a complex, tangled bog of despair that people use because “they have to”.

BA and UX specialist: A winning combination for superior results in software projects

Digital_composite_spring_1016

The following is from a blog post on Modern Analyst.com. It was written by Adriana Beal. I really like what she wrote, and with the kind permission of both Adriana, and Modern Analyst, I am reproducing the post here.

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I’m a fierce proponent of a business analyst role separate from other roles, such as project manager. As I’ve written in the past,

In my experience as a consultant, the most successful projects typically have a business analyst and a project manager working together to accomplish project goals. Activities such as planning the work to be done, identifying and securing necessary resources, determining tasks that must be completed, assigning the tasks, delegating authority, tracking progress, etc., are the responsibility of the project manager, while the business analyst remains in charge of producing consistent, complete, feasible, truly needed, accurate, traceable and verifiable requirements.

But what about user experience or interaction designers[1]? Does every software project truly need a UX/UI specialist (or team of specialists)? Or could this aspect of the solution be taken care by the collaboration between the BA and the development team?

BA and UX specialist: A winning combination for superior results in software projectsNot all software projects will require a UI/UX designer. For example, a project enhancing a system that already provides good usability, implementing changes with zero or little impact in the way users interact with the system, can be successfully completed without the intervention of a UI specialist. This would be the case of a project created to implement massive changes in the business logic that calculates the price of airline tickets, but with no effect in the screens customers use to check prices and purchase flight tickets.

In many other types of software projects, however, the quality of the user experience may have a huge impact in user adoption rates, time-to-market, customer loyalty, and future costs with end-user support and application maintenance, among other aspects that are important for the business. Table 1 illustrates how the UX designer role complements the tasks performed by the BA to provide the right foundation for the work of the technical team responsible for implementing a software solution.

  Business Analyst User Experience Designer Implementation team
Main focus Business problem assessment

Requirements discovery and documentation

Information Architecture

Visual Design

Interface design

Usability

Prototyping*, system architecture, data modeling**, technical design, programming

* If not executed by the UX specialist

** If not executed by a data-focused BA

Main deliverables Requirements documents, business rules Wireframes, visual comps, results of usability tests System architecture and technical design documents, code
Examples of decisions How to go about the requirements discovery process (interviews, workshops, etc.), when the requirements are considered “done”. What to align 
with what in an interface, when to use techniques like contrast and proximity to group and segregate 
items in a display.
Which data structure (e.g., simple partitioning, associative array, 10-ary tree) to use to represent the content a large flat text file.

Table 1: How the BA and UX roles complement each other.

Arguably, a BA and a developer can work together to figure out the user interaction elements of a software solution on their own. That’s what happens in projects when there isn’t a budget or interest in bringing a UX specialist to the team. A BA may create wireframes the developer uses to produce the screens, and the developer may be responsible for decisions such as when to use a button vs. a link, or radio buttons vs. a drop-down menu to provide options to users. There are two main problems with designing the user experience in a complex software project without the help of an UX specialist, though:

  • Trying to recruit a single individual with all the skills necessary to be at the center of a systematic approach to defining a solution for the business problem (BA role) or effectively coding the specified solution (developer), who is also knowledgeable in information, interaction, and visual design, as well as cognizant of the advantages and constraints associated with the interface of various types of devices that will be used to access the application, and capable of designing and executing effective usability tests, (UX specialist), is almost like trying to hire a modern-day Leonardo da Vinci.
  • Even if you could find such a talented professional, there’s still the problem of competing demands for her time and attention.

Imagine you are in the middle of a project in which everything is going well (the business stakeholders have approved the requirements and the proposed look-and-feel, and the initial prototype built to confirm the solution was fit for purpose was a success). As the developers work on the final code, they discover that there is a problem with a data feed, which at times may prevent all the expected data to be included in one of the reports the application is to provide.

A solution must be found quickly to avoid costly delays in the project. The BA immediately starts to work on understanding and communicating the issue, as well as analyzing the alternatives to propose to the business stakeholders. Meanwhile, realizing that the report will have to include some sort of visual indication to alert users whenever the data set they are viewing is incomplete, the BA engages the UX specialist to begin thinking of how best to convey the information in the screen (using color codes? a warning message? an icon that when tapped or clicked opens a pop-up message explaining the issue?). In parallel, the developer will be working on the logic necessary to validate whether all the expected data was received in the last feed, or a subset is missing, thus requiring the warning to be displayed for users.

With each professional working on one aspect of the solution, it’s much easier to ensure the issue will receive the best possible treatment in the shortest period of time. In a case relatively simple like this, if time wasn’t an issue, it might be relatively easy for the BA and developer to work together and achieve a solution that was fit for purpose. But if time is limited, or the issue would have a more substantial impact in the user interaction design, having a UX specialist involved may become crucial to avoid creating a system that does what it’s supposed to do, but is so hard to navigate or complete a task with, that users refuse to adopt it.

Investments in usability can easily translate into better profit margins, sales/employee, success rates of new products, customer satisfaction, repeat purchase rate, dropout rate, length of new product introduction cycle, and more. Even a 5% improvement in success rate of a checkout process in an ecommerce website, driven by usability improvements, may represent millions more in revenue for the business. Likewise, cutting in half the time an employee takes to find a physician in the system to refer to a patient may create savings of millions a year for a healthcare company.

Creating an easy to use and pleasant user experience is a collaborative effort. In many of my projects, after seeing the visual comps a talented UX specialist designed, I’ve made a suggestion to reorganize the elements of a screen that was accepted and incorporated into the visual design. Or, during user acceptance testing, a user has asked for a change in color or size of buttons after using the application for a while. The key contribution a UX specialist brings to a project, though, is a deep understanding of UX principles, and the ability to bring together multiple viewpoints to “connect the dots” and do what’s right for the end users.

Smart companies know that ill-conceived software products end up costing them millions (if not billions) of dollars and many headaches. Some companies put UX specialists in charge of product requirements, some hire a BA to take care of the requirements and expect the project team to collectively make the interaction and visual decisions. Smarter organizations know that the combination of BA + UX offers the best approach to ensure that their software projects have a shortened programming time and delivers a superior product. Together, a business analyst and a user experience designer make it much easier to produce feasible-to-build, easy-to-use, attractive product that enables the user and the business to achieve their end goals. Their combined efforts make it possible for software developers to keep focus on the technical challenges of creating quality code for a well-designed software product that does complex things simply.

Author: Adriana Beal received her B.S. in electronic engineering and MBA in strategic management of information systems from two of the most prestigious graduate schools in Brazil. For the past 10 years she has been offering consulting assistance throughout the software development life cycle for organizations implementing large, complex software projects.


[1] Interaction Designer, User Experience Designer, and User Interface Designer are usually interchangeable job titles. UI can be seen as a subset of UX — it focuses on how you interact with an application, while UX is the sum of all that you experience with the application. For example, for the same UI to select and and play a video, you could have a different overall user experience depending on delays associated with video streaming, the sharpness of the images based on screen resolution, etc.

Hand drawn – Alive and inviting

In an earlier post (The Power of Comic Books!!) I talked about an interview with a Keegan Lannon, a Phd student studying the value of comic books. This was accompanied with a video of the interview.

In the video Keegan states “the more abstract a comic is, the more the person can relate to it”.

Abstract-relate

Interestingly enough, a couple of days later I stumbled across an interesting piece that validates this. In Rough and Hand-drawn: Alive and Inviting Tom Benthin talks about how, when compared to computer created images, “more abstract drawings of people allow us not just to imagine that a drawing is real, but that we are in it”.

This translates, as well, into techniques that are used for analysis and design work.  When you either try and describe something to users, or try to draw out of them details on processes etc, a roughly drawn picture can be used.

An example of a Use Case Model

 

Promise #2 – The Public Sector Digital Landfill

Digital Continuity logo

Refer: 14 Unfulfilled Promises

Background

In my post “The Public Sector Digital Landfill” I described how NZ Archives were creating a Digital Continuity Strategy that would “ensure that valuable information is preserved and migrated when necessary to the latest formats and media, appropriate metadata is attached, and documents that are no longer relevant are securely deleted”.

I also expressed some excitement at the fact that NZ Archives had drawn up a “Digital Continuity Action Plan“, and stated that I would be following the progress of it.

Delivering on the Promise

I admit that I didn’t follow what was happening with that initiative. However, I recently made contact with Mike Crouch from NZ Archives.

Turns out that NZ Archives has been doing a lot with regards the Digital Continuity Action Plan.

Digital Continuity Action Plan

The Digital Continuity Action Plan is described beautifully in a publication that Archives NZ actually published in 2009. You can view it in HTML format here, or a PDF copy can be downloaded here.

The key messages given in the report really made sense to me. They are:

  • There when you need it – digital information will be maintained so that it can be accessed when needed.
  • Authentic and reliable – public-sector digital information should be tamper-proof and free of technological digital rights restrictions
  • Trusted Access – Publicly available information should be findable and usable by all New Zealanders,  and sensitive information will be protected from unauthorised access.
  • Do nothing, lose everything

2010 Conference

In May 2010, a conference was held with experts from Australasia, North America and Europe who presented on a range of aspects in the digital preservation and information continuity fields. There were three streams, and the presentations, and recordings of the sessions can be viewed/listened to here.

2012 Conference

At the end of March, another conference was held. The title was “Digital Preservation by Design”. It looked like there was an excellent line-up of speakers from around the globe.

Summary

The idea of digital preservation has been taken seriously by the government in New Zealand. The last of the four key messages (see above) sums it up well: “Do Nothing, Lose Everything.”

Promise #1 – The value of a Content Management system

Refer: 14 Unfulfilled Promises

Background

In my post “The value of a content management system” I described how the US Air Force Medical Service had added an E2.0 interface to their content management system, and finished the post by trying to find out if I could republish some of the material from the article.

Delivering on the Promise

Instead of republishing excerpts from the post, I have included a link to the post, so that you can read it yourself:

Social Network Enlightenment Found in the U.S. Air Force Medical Service

Beta Testing SLIKK

While doing some research to help someone I’m “mentoring” (as part of the AIIM “Enthusiasts Club” I came across the SLIKK search engine.

This appears to use search results from Google but offers a number of useful ways to view them, as well as the website, or source that they are pointing at.

The site is still in Beta Testing, and is “by invitation only” so I’ll see what happens. If it all goes good, then I’ll keep you up-to-date.

More things I have learnt from the world of secret agents.

In my last “things that I have learnt from spies” post I talked about the British TV series “Spooks” and the US TV series “NCIS”, and how we can learn something from them. At that time, it was to do with “teams“. In this post it’s to do with “intuitiveness“.

So there I was – I had just put Disc 1 of the first season of “Spooks” in the DVD player, and some sort of “intro film” started playing with a shady character breaking into (I later discovered) the MI5 headquaters.

The film was quite interesting and really sets the scene for the program. After breaking in, the character goes to a desk, and starts typing on a keyboard to override security systems, as well as checking for confidential information. Then he waits, and types in more codes.

After watching this for about 10 minutes, I thought that there was something wrong. The character just kept repeating the same actions…type secret codes….look for stuff…watch the monitor…type more secret codes, etc. All with some really cool “spy thriller” background music.

Turns out that I was at the “Main Menu” screen…By pressing the “Up” and “Down” arrows on the remote control I was actually moving between items on the desk on the screen that represented different menu options. Once I worked this out, I was able to actually start the program.

The “”intro” screen was actually pretty cool, and really fitted with the whole “secret agent” theme. However, it just wasn’t “intuitive”.

In the DVDs for the next series they had added menu descriptions.

Momentum – another year – another set of announcements

As mentioned – I didn’t get a chance to go to Momentum in Berlin this year.

However I was able to get a pretty good idea of what was covered thanks to the great streaming video that EMC had, as well as the great tweets that be “tweeted”, and the excellent blog posts that were written.

I’ve been to a few Momentum’s now, and while they are a great opportunity to really “talk” with the EMC people, and their partners, I always had the feeling that the things I heard, I had, more or less, heard at the previous Momentum, or that what was big one year, suddenly falls to the wayside.

Now I realise that changes to strategy get made all the time, and that new technology takes more than one year to design, develop and integrate, and it’s great to see that EMC is: a) responsive to changes in the market environment, b) keeping its customers well informed of the progress that they are making, but to mention a few examples…

  1. Centerstage – in 2009 this was being hawked as the new Documentum interface. Now where is it?
  2. XPlore – really glad to see that EMC have been busy with their own search engine. And I have been following this with interest. However has there been anything new over the last couple of Momentums?
  3. SharePoint – also really interested in this but, again, are we hearing anything new with regards to the EMC offering for integration with SharePoint?

It wasn’t until I spoke with a colleague, who made a similar comment, that I started to really think about this. Then I saw this tweet from Jed Spink that I realised that others also had the same thought.

I appreciate that my view might not be a perfect one, and that there might be situations where I am wrong.

I want to hear what you think? Am I right? Or am I totally wrong?…