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User Experience – Has Corporate IT Missed A Trick?

User Experience – Has Corporate IT Missed A Trick?
August 17, 2017

What constitutes a good user experience? How do you even define and measure user experience? Is it the ‘look-and-feel’ of a product or the interface of an application? In the two blogs shared by Prafull Verma, he talked about the end-user experience based service design, with an example of Apple’s 3D touch, and user experience for real business services, where he broke down the ‘travel with an airline’ experience.

The current blog discusses the origin of the term ‘user experience’, what constitutes user experience, and why corporate IT may be focussing its efforts in the wrong direction. We have a tendency in IT to manipulate terms, make them sound cool, but complex, and to be in-sync with the latest buzzwords. Unfortunately, many a times, we misinterpret the essence of the intended meaning.

‘User experience’ (aka UX) is a term that was coined by Don Norman, the director of The Design Lab at University of California, San Diego. He created the term in 1993 when he joined Apple as a Fellow and had the job title changed from ‘User Interface Architect’ to ‘User Experience Architect’. As Don Norman explained the rationale behind the term, UX was not intended to refer to just the interface of using a product, but the overall experience that a user has with everything from the buying experience in store, to opening the box, assembling and setting up the product, to eventually using it. He said “he invented the term because he thought ‘human interface’ and ‘usability’ were too narrow, and wanted to cover all aspects of the person's experience with a system, including industrial design, graphics, the interface, the physical interaction, and the manual.”

Don Norman is also credited for inventing the term ‘User-centered design (UCD) or ‘User-Driven Development (UDD)’* which is a framework of processes (not restricted to interfaces or technologies) in which usability goals, user characteristics, environment, tasks, and workflow of a product, service or process are given extensive attention at each stage of the design process (*source: Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User-centered_design).

So, ‘user experience’ is about the experience in using the end-to-end service and interaction of that service. There isn’t a single measure that would provide a score, especially, since several parameters that are part of the experience are subjective in nature, as well as perception based. 

It requires art and science both together to deliver a good user experience to the customer.

Delivering a good user experience is an art because it is an application of human creative skills, and also science, because it is a systematic and logical body of knowledge. It is subjective in nature because it is about individual perception and thought with respect to the system. User experience is dynamic as it is constantly modified over time due to changing circumstances and user behaviour. Several aspects can be measured with metrics such as success rate, error rate, abandonment rate, time to complete an activity in the overall chain, or number of clicks and time taken to request a service or the provisioning. There have been ‘technical’ solutions created to try and measure user experience index and the customer experience index.

User Experience by Service Design vs User Experience by Service Support

Unfortunately, enterprise IT still lags behind when compared to services that users consume outside of the working environment. We all use computers at home and work. There are company provided mobile devices, while others can bring in their own, but use corporate apps on it. We all have a corporate email address as well as a personal email address (which is likely to be a Gmail ID), but the experience of using both of them is vastly different.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai revealed during earnings call with investors in January (2016), that their web-based email service had a billion users. In May 2017, he revealed at Google’s I/O developer conference that their Android operating system recently crossed 2 billion active devices. So I am fairly confident that the billion users that existed at the start of last year have grown substantially, although I was unable to find any current official statistics. Is there a single corporate organization with that scale of end users of email? Anyway, even if you look at a ‘conservative’ billion users, how does it feel to use Gmail compared to corporate email? When was the last time your Gmail went offline or you had forgotten your password and had to call the Google service desk? On second thoughts, does Google even have a service desk that you can call? I did find Google forums for each of their products, but couldn’t find a phone number for their service desk anywhere. On the other hand, most corporate organizations have a fraction of the user base as compared to Gmail, but have large 24x7 service desks. I realized that the service desk support issues beyond email are related to email and password resets. Let’s compare the two platforms: 

  Gmail Corporate Email
Number of Users 1 Billion+ users Varies, but let’s say 30,000+ or 0.003% of Gmail user base
Service Desk None; only online forums Large 24x7 teams
Downtime None It does happen
User Experience Built into the service Focussed on support services

Enterprise IT spends a lot of its resources in providing great support, and then measure the user experience. Extensive discussions and negotiations for more aggressive SLAs for incident resolution are not uncommon when agreeing to IT supplier contracts. Many organizations have misinterpreted the essence of ‘user experience’, and try and build this into the support processes. By then, unfortunately it is too late and it becomes a futile exercise. The user perception of the service and user experience design has already been negatively impacted. 

I accept that comparing services available outside the corporate environment and at work may not be equivalent to comparing orange to orange. Yes, there are budgets to work, compliance, regulatory, and audit requirements in the corporate environment. There are also bureaucratic processes that have to be adhered to, but is there any excuse to not incorporate the user experience in the design of the services we provide? And should we be talking about budgets when signing up to Gmail is free?