Importance of Usability in Enterprise IT

18 Apr, 2008
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These days a lot of big organizations are spending a good amount of money on making their websites more usable. And you may want to know why?
Think about a Fortune 50 organization (with around 100 thousands employee strength) which has many web applications working across the organization. It may have intranet applications, some business applications etc to facilitate business in effective way. These organizations spend a lot of money on IT spending and generally require many new applications every quarter. Now think about a case where all these new web based applications are different in their look and feel (navigation, fonts, colors etc) from each other.

If that organization doesn’t use consistent look and feel, it becomes really hard for its employees to get used to new applications every now and then. People take a lot of time just to get familiar with the new application and its navigation and you may say, hey… why don’t you spend some money for training these people. Here I am not saying that you don’t change the look and feel with the span of time and with the advent of new technologies. But how about a situation where in case you want to change the look and feel across enterprise, it’s just the implementation of new enterprise UI standards to those applications without significant code change.
Good questions but how about training 100 thousand people. It takes a lot of money, resources and logistics efforts from enterprise side to train these people. And again in case a new person joins the company, he’ll have hard time to be familiar with the application.
So now as an IT division of that organization, we may not want to spend a lot of money but still would like to make applications usable. The answer to those questions comes in terms making your applications intuitive. Many organizations really believe the philosophy/slogan of a very well known usability book “Don’t make me think”. The idea is to make the applications so intuitive and self explanatory that you really will not require a full fledged training. If people get to work on a totally new applications and they are familiar with the look and feel, they really won’t take much time to get acclimatize with the new application.
Another focus area is to spend a lot less time on making things work with an application. Think about a case where it takes around 20 clicks and corresponding wait time to complete one business transaction. You may have come across with these kinds of applications already I guess. That’s a pain, don’t you think. Let me give you yet another example. While booking a plain ticket, if you want to select the destination, you may need to click on an image which pops-up a “choose destination” screen. You will put your search criteria followed by yet another click to search, select and put the result on the parent screen. That’s a lot of effort and time wastage. The end user may be annoyed if the internet speed is not good for some reason. How about you start typing and AJAX interface provide you the option to choose from just in time. You as an end user are able to finish that task within a sec. So less number of clicks is one of the usability principles you may want to focus on while creating the web application.
Let’s talk about some more examples which may be relevant to your day to day experience working with web applications.

  1. Complex Navigation: Sometimes you don’t have a clue for how to reach to a certain page as it may be under a complex (lengthy) and nested navigation (remember some Confluence pages )
  2. Ever thought why text is always left-aligned and not center aligned. Humans are more used to read from left-to-right always and as soon as you make the text center-aligned, people have a hard time just to read it.
  3. Older people feel more comfortable while reading something with big fonts. So it may make sense to provide the capabilities in the website to change it with a lot less efforts.
  4. Some colors are more soothing while reading. Generally you try to avoid something with black background but it’s generally pleasant to read something with white background.
  5. Consistent look and feel helps a lot in branding a company. Think about Xebia and you remember its logo and prominence of purple color. People start relating brand with logo and color and the way you structure the look and feel. If consistency is lost between websites, the brand doesn’t itch in the people’s memory.

In JEE based development, developers are more focused on creating the server side components and the focus towards creating a usable UI is relatively less as they may not be aware about UI usability at-all. Irrespective of cutting edge technologies you may be using, if application UI is not usable, people won’t use it. Many IT shops are already spending their resources on usability already and those who haven’t, need to focus on this aspect of software development to provide good IT solution to the customer.


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