Usability makes difference in informatics

Usability makes difference in informatics

Information system or service must take into account users' needs and expectations. Often failures in IT projects could have been avoided by investing in careful UI design and usability testing. Nevertheless, usability evaluation and testing can easily be seen as an extra cost in the IT budget, and thus, working to match user expectations are easily procrastinated to "later phases" after the actual system deployment. For that reason, many employees are wasting time with complex and illogical systems. Also, customers are frustrated with slow customer service that causes customer dissatisfaction and eventually lost revenues.

Usability testing - integral part of IT projects

It's common to hear stories not only about unsuccesful information system development or implementation projects, but also about abandoned systems. Usually these systems have cost to the customer hundreds of thousands or even millions of euros when taking into account all related costs such as software licenses and maintenance, implementation, customization, training, consultants, own staff etc. Generally, customers purchase systems that are newest technology from a well-known vendor and use professional services to help with system implementation. In principle, when taking into account all the other aspects, for example, change and project management, the foundation for successful implementation should at least be solid.

Far too often people who are responsible for system design and specifications forget the needs of end-users. This may have been tackled by collecting user feedback already before the implementation. When the system is deployed it might be too late to notice that it's far too difficult to use system functionalities and find information, therefore, users start to avoid using the new system. At least following areas of usability should be taken into consideration already before and during the implementation: system learnability, efficiency, memorability, faultlessness and user satisfaction.

Furthermore, potential pitfalls in the real user experience could be addressed early enough by addressing usability at least in following four phases of an IT project:

  1. Evaluation phase of the potential systems
  2. Proof-of-concept phase
  3. System piloting before go-live
  4. Continuous development of the system in place

Usability - critical part of informatics business

On the other hand, why badly usable system or service even exists? Why they are brought into the market, if users eventually avoid using them after single try? One might also ask, why you would even like to purchase this kind of system?

Usability should actually be the most important criteria for the investment, because it is prerequisite for a system to exist. Usability evaluation at different stages of IT investment should not be a savings target. It is much cheaper than almost everything else in the investment and system deployment project, but it easily turns into large benefits.

Let's take into consideration cloud services such as Software as a Service that is a sofware sold and used over the Internet. The fast-growing SaaS market is an exciting field full of opportunities to solve customer problems. Selling and distributing SaaS solutions is often a rather straight-forward process where sales personnel identifies prospects, contacts and convinces them to try out the solution. When everything goes well, the sales person closes the deal by helping customers to make a purchase. When dealing with simplier SaaS solutions, often opportunities should be identified and deals closed without even meeting the customer face-to-face. Usually the customer makes go/no-go decisions based on the overall experience during the initial trial period of the software. And more and more empasis is placed on usability.

Therefore, usability is a critical factor in the user onboarding process. The ease with features that are adopted by users determines the entire service's onboarding success. However, the software vendor tend easily to view usability and user experience as an expensive luxury. But in order to compete for new customer revenues and higher renewal rates, SaaS providers should also consider usability as a critical way to differentiate. The same principle applies also in another emerging informatics businesses area.

Nowadays companies and consumers make wide variety of purchases on eCommerce and online shopping services such as and eBay. In fact there were several other major competitors in online shopping when both of them started. Many closed down their business due to lack of sales. At the strongest online shops finding products, ordering them and paying them was convenient. Best ones understood the users and could anticipate customer needs and their purchasing behaviour. Often user decides in under one minute whether to continue using the service or not. Hence, in eCommerce usability is actully the foundation for success.

The importance of usability is, of course, not limited to enterprise software, eCommerce or other commercial sector. One common area is healthcare IT where bad usability could lead to poor work efficiency of clinicians, lack of data privacy and even to critical patient malpractices.