Payroll jobs and Canucks on an iPhone
Three projects, many lessons
Sysadmin blog I am supposed to crank out a set of articles about NTFS and Share permissions, but I'm changing the topic: user experience management.
This coincides with a series of IT-related but not IT-led projects at work. The projects allowed me a chance to see how other individuals approached the provisioning of IT services, from which I learned a lot.
The first project is the rollout of a new payroll system. To users, payroll is a mundane item. From an accounting perspective new payroll systems are stressful events. The closest IT analogue I can think of is a major operating system upgrade: think taking your entire network from NT5 to NT6. Most bean counters are not power users, and watching a rollout such as this happen, without much interaction with IT, is enlightening in two ways.
Firstly, all technical information related to the project was doled out by the payroll company at metered intervals. We didn’t find out the IT requirements until the end of the project. We haven’t set up the hand scanner yet because can’t get firm details on what systems the payroll company requires. Plenty of hoopla about how excellent their software and labour saving accounting procedures are; not very timely with the details.
The second observation is much more positive. I watched as the payroll company provided an exhaustive amount of information to our bean counters about how to use the software. Videos, live support conferences, reams of documentation and step-by-step instructions for absolutely everything. Provided of course you are using the environment they assume, which sadly relies on Internet Explorer.
It's positive because the bean counters were able to train staff, entirely on their own, how to use this software. There should have been more inter-departmental communication, especially when bugs and browser problems popped up, but the documentation provided by this company was excellent. The accounts department rolled out the software almost entirely without IT’s help.
They are impressed by the software. I’m more jaded. From an IT perspective, it’s primitive. I am sure it ticks the right boxes for regulatory compliance and ease of use, but the software raised no interesting flags. The presentation however, and the level of support, were superb. Dress up mediocre software right, and people will fall over themselves to use it.
The second project involved tweaking and testing some XML-based templates that fuel a java app we present to customers so they can place orders with us. Changing a bunch of variables, then launching the app and testing it to see if it blows up is monkey work. Template design takes skill and talent; testing templates takes nothing more than the ability to pay attention. Regardless, the CEO of the company ended up spending an entire day testing templates because there was nobody else to do it.
This is where IT get it so wrong.
having come from a prinint background I can spot bad design a mile of:
Apps on windows pc's that don't follow the MS "standard" you know, hitting F1 will do help, CNTRL + C,V,X etc. 99% of programmes use it, then some bright spark decided that F1 should be for save, or cut and paste is CNTL & L and P or something stupid.
Forms that are in illogical orders, very often happens when US software is used in the UK. ZIP Code not labled postcode. You know that, I know that, but does Fred in accounts no that?
Using Red text to highlight an issue. Great, unless of course it's a dark blue background.
You may click OK on a form and it completes, but the form doesn't close. Is it an error? Did I forget to fill in a field or is everythingcorrect, do I have to click close or something else?
End user experience is EVERYTHING. You can have a brilliant system, but if the end user interface is crap, it's dumped on them with no training, it will be slagged off no end.
Apple, (no I own 0 Apple devices) are very good and getting this bit right and for that they must be saluted, even if at a premium cost.
So close, yet so wrong
Make _the technology_ serve the end user. The department is there to keep the stuff running, not "serve" the end user. You similarly don't want to turn IT departments into "shops" that cater to "customers". That way you get the end user claim he's always right, which causes all sorts of systemic pains later on. You want to have your IT department _work with_ the end user to tailor a solution, which is what your example did. So I'm a pedant, so I work in IT.
But yeah, and it's much more generally true: We MUST take care our technology --all of it, not just the computer-y part-- serves us, and we MUST NOT make people serve our technology, our systems, our bureaucracies. The fine print in ID cards (now scrapped) was a prime example of this. Most of the Dutch infrastructure is starting to work this way. I'm sure you can come up with more.
Title, standard issue, required, one.
Kudos to that CEO. Template testing may be monkey work, but bloody hell if it isn't important to get right. Look at any ticketing system and observe how atrocious the default email templates are. That's not helping anyone like email more, that's just stuffing everyone's inbox with voluminous, verbiagous, heaps of crap that gets deleted instantly and so people will gaze at the web interface instead. Since my workflow is heavily anti-browser and pro-MUA (of _my_ choice, TYVM), I hate all ticketing system "designers". Can't even get In-Reply-To: right. Losers.
That user experience observation is pretty important. Also note how this effect _used_ to be the main drive for uptake of new micros~1 ``products''. Only theirs were invariably shoddy in addition to insulting my intelligence with abandon. Somehow I mind apple's take less. Even if apple is far from a benign company. They're better at interop, their products have an undeniable shine, they work, by and large. I still don't have apple gear, mind.