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Take advantage from information technology percolating in business and society.

on ‎05-21-2014 12:27 AM

User design.jpgThe advantage of traveling is that you have a moment to read the newspaper. That’s what I did this morning, and with interest, I read an article about the operations of the emergency room in a major hospital. The conclusion by the head doctor caught my eye. Emergency room procedures could be much smoother if proper IT services were used. In other words, he proposes to use IT to manage the flow of patients in the emergency room using approaches that are common in manufacturing and other industries.


If there is one place where time is of the essence and where everything gravitates around the patient, it’s the emergency room. But there also information technology is creeping in. It’s doing the same in all parts of our live and our organizations, with a series of questions that have not been addressed yet. Those are related to privacy, security and right to be forgotten. Although those three subjects are worth in-depth discussions, this is not what I want to highlight today. I’d rather look at the implications to our society.


The digital divide

As Information Technology becomes core and center in everything we do, from buying a metro ticket to voting, and read our mail, this implies we know how to use IT. This is definitely not a problem for younger people from affluent communities. They have been raised with gaming consoles, PCs and smart phones. They know how it works and if they’re youngsters they already used the technologies to perform their homework and other assignments.


But there are a couple other generations that don’t have that luxury. You have the members of poorer neighborhoods whose parents could not afford the above mentioned gadgets. They often went to schools that were not equipped either, and as a result they are left behind. This has just made their search for a job so much more difficult. How about building a society where information technology is accessible to all, where IT is truly part of the education system, rather than a bold on.


You also have the older generations which have been left behind. Many people in their 70’s and 80’s have no understanding of IT. Some learned it and get away with it rather well, but many don’t. As IT based environments become the only way to interact with enterprises, government, agencies and individuals, they may be left behind. For some it’s even hard to understand why you now first enter the phone number and then pick up the phone, rather than the other way round, as you did with rotary phones…. But who still remember those?


What these users would need is an extremely simple and intuitive (for them) environment allowing them to access what they need.


If we believe that information technology is becoming core and center to any business and that companies should become digital enterprises, we need to ensure the workforce that will perform and manage that transformation is available on the one end, and that citizens are capable of consume the services. So, how do we get there? Three steps in my mind, understanding how you want to position yourself in a digital world, develop and transform the functionality required, and finally make sure it is intuitive for the user. Let’s look at each of these in more details.


What do you want to be famous for?

Since a long time people talk about “killer apps”, these applications that make all the difference. In the digital enterprise you want to exploit information technology to digitally enable existing or new processes. You are looking at creating a different experience for your users. What is it you want to do? That’s the fundamental question, that’s where you want to innovate. That is where your thinking should start. Don’t limit yourself by what you think is feasible or not feasible with today’s technology. That actually does not matter. Describe your vision, the end-point, without boundaries. Be creative, innovative, think outside the box. This is a “no limit” activity. Do not just recreate something that already exist, using digital technologies.


Once you have your idea, think about how your idea can be materialized within the organization you are part of. What sources of business processes, information, application functionality, and other resources do you already have and how can the new approach fit with what you are already doing. If there is a possibility for it to cannibalize your current business, how will you handle that?


Develop and Transform the functionality

So, now you know what you want to do. It’s time to decide how you will do it. Start sketching the business process(es) associated with the new service. Identify each step in them. Most steps will be done automatically, so they should be supported by a service. Describe that service, its inputs, its outputs, and its functionality. Also describe the data you require.


Once that is done, you can look at your existing applications. For each required service, is there an application or application functionality that supports the service? If yes, that application may be transformed to properly deliver the service through the exposure of APIs for example. It may be ported to the cloud. If no application is available, this means a piece of code has to be developed. Also, are the data items you require stored in an existing data-structure? Is the data organized properly or does it need to be redone. If the data is in a variety of locations, can it be integrated?

You see where I’m going. Let’s reuse the assets we have when and where possible. As some steps require interactions with users, let’s think in “client-server” terms, what are we doing in the client and what in the server. This actually brings me to the third step, the user experience design.


Make it simple for your users

Depending on how easy and intuitive your new offering is, your users will or will not use it. So, reviewing the user interaction and making sure it’s slick, intuitive and easy to use is critical. Don’t wait for everything to be developed. Start by using mock-ups, wireframes and other graphical techniques. Go to actual users and ask them to go through the mock-up you developed. See how they react, what questions they ask and listen to their comments. This will give you clues on where and how you can improve things. Think from a user point of view. It’s actually difficult because you know what is behind the scenes, how things are working. So you will make assumptions based on your knowledge. What you need to do is start from scratch, forget everything you know and think how a user would go after doing what he has to do.


Don’t hesitate to use designers to improve the appeal of your user interface. Remember, this it the only part of the business processes the user sees. This is where it will work or fail. Everything else is unknown. Oh, and by the way, if your users have a wide age range, test with young and old as they do not have the same attitude towards using IT. Your interface will have to be usable at both ends of the spectrum.



As information technology is percolating the whole enterprise and everything we do, enterprises have a unique opportunity to review their business models and create new opportunities by interacting with their customers, their citizens, their users in new ways. This is really exciting. But it requires the repurpose of existing functionality, the integration of information and the creation of intuitive ways to interact with that functionality. How can we bridge the digital divide? Can we find ways to create easy environments for the ones at the wrong side of the divide while giving the others access to all functionality they want? We managed to create very easy mobile phones for elderly, so I do believe this is possible. Our imagination is our limit. Any suggestions?



If you are looking for help in developing new user experiences, you may want to look here.

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