Posts Tagged ‘User experience platform’

Vertical User Experience Platform

July 5, 2012

Whilst discussing what a UXP is and who the key players are with a customer I was asked an interesting question, “is there a need for industry (banking, retail, government …) specific UXP ?”.

My immediate reaction was that the technologies in a UXP were generic horizontal solutions that should be agnostic to the industry they were implemented in. The fact that they were specialised solutions and are not industry specific to me was a key advantage. So why would you want a content management solution or collaboration tool that was specific to banking or retail?

The response was interesting: For many smaller companies the complexity of managing their web presence is huge, even if they buy into a single vendor approach for example using Microsoft Sharepoint they still have a huge task to set up the individual components (content management, collaboration, social tools and apps) and this is only made harder with the need to support an increasing array of devices (phone, tablet, TV etc…).

It seems there is a need for an offering that provides an integrated full UXP that can be set-up easily and quickly without the need for an army of developers. Compromises on absolute flexibility are acceptable provided a rich set of templates (or the ability to create custom templates) were provided, such that the templates handled device support automatically. Further the UXP might offer vertical specific content feeds out of the box.

As in my previous blog “The End of Silo Architectures” using a UXP front end technology to create industry specific apps is a great idea. Such a solution could not only provide the business functionality (e.g. Internet banking, insurance quotes/claims, stock trading) but the technical issues of cross device and browser support, security and performance.

So whilst I can understand the requirement and the obvious benefit, the idea of a vertical UXP to me seems like providing a vertical specific CRM or Accounting package. The real answer is that it makes sense to provide vertical apps and use generic Content, Collaboration and social tools from a UXP. Ideally the generic components are integrated and have easy to configure templates.

As I have highlighted before though the UXP is complex not just from a technology perspective but also from the perspective of skills, processes and standards. The first step for any organisation must be to create a strategy for UXP: audit what you currently have, document what you need (take into consideration current trends like social, gamification and mobile) and then decide how you move forward.

Unfortunately this area currently seems ill serviced by the consultancy companies so it may just be up to you to roll your own strategy.

What’s a UXP

March 29, 2012

Gartner are defining a category they call UXP to help organisations manage all their user experience requirements.

Gartner defines the UXP as “an integrated collection of technologies and methodologies that provides the ability to design and deliver user interface/presentation capabilities for a wide variety of interaction channels (including features such as web, portal, mashup, content management, collaboration, social computing, mobile, analytics, search, context, rich Internet application, e-commerce, an application platform and an overall user experience design and management framework)”.

There is currently no precise definition of the set of technologies a UXP encompasses, but Gartner identify the following list as candidates:

  • Web analytics
  • Search
  • Social
  • Programming frameworks and APIs
  • UX design and management
  • Rich internet applications
  • E-commerce
  • Mobile
  • Content management
  • Collaboration, with portal and mashups being core.

With growing importance of web interfaces on all devices the UXP is not a moment too soon, as organisations need to get a grip of not just these technologies, but the underlying supporting business processes and skills they require to define, create, manage and measure their user and customer experiences.

It’s clear that from an architectural perspective the UXP covers everything that is in the “Presentation layer”, and maybe a few that are in the grey areas between the Presentation layer and the Business layer.

As Gartner have identified, this is a growing list of technologies. From my perspective, some of these need to be integrated and some are standalone, and it would be helpful to have some broader categories within the UXP to help focus efforts towards implementation.

Social and collaboration technologies facilitate interaction between two or more users, and so could be grouped into a category called UXP-Collaboration.

Content is the core of any web platform and content management, search and analytics could be grouped into a category called UXP-Content.

Portal, mobile apps, RIA and mashups are essentially application development technologies so could be group as UXP-Apps.

From a process perspective these categories also make sense, as UX-Collaboration technologies are installed and then require mediation processes to manage the implementation, while UX-Content require publishing and monitoring lifecycle and UX-Apps technologies are implemented by IT, and go through an IT development lifecycle.

However, UXP is an evolving field, and as with any technology it is clear that selection and implementation cannot be done without a full understanding of business requirements, the underlying implementation and management processes and skills required.

Given the size, complexity and importance of this task I would not be surprised to see some organisations appoint a Chief eXperience Officer (CXO).

Birth of the User Experience Platform (UXP)

January 15, 2011

Regular readers will know I have an interest in the user experience. Actually, it’s more like a passion – so, what’s next for web and user interaction technologies?

 Gartner has answered that question in their recently released hype cycle paper on the next generation web (see further reading, below). The cycle itself raises some interesting issues and trends, not least the potential horror of ‘Web 3.0’ – which the analyst suggests could be an ambiguous and unhelpful term.

 In other areas, Gartner is able to be more precise. The analyst recognises that the web continues to evolve along multiple dimensions, such as social, mobile, programmable and real time. Such developments are taking place outside and within the business, causing growth on an unprecedented scale.

 Much work, however, still needs to be done. Too many workers at too many companies remain unaware of methodologies and processes that can be used to help improve the user experience.

 Understanding the user is everything. Giving users the platform that meets their needs – and inevitably the power to tweak that platform via end-user computing – will sort the web-enabled wheat from the business chaff.

 Once again, that is a trend recognised by Gartner. The analyst suggests that a series of trends, such as context-aware computing, the mobile web and the cloud, are of particular interest right now. However, it is their take on user experience platforms (UXP) that is most significant.

 Earlier in the year, I said I expected the pendulum to swing towards UXP in 2010 (see further reading). That foresight now looks spot on, with Gartner tagging the emerging concept of integrated technologies that help deliver user interaction in its hype cycle.

 The analyst suggests the UXP is developing as a critical platform, which represents the convergence of presentation layer technology. It suggests the UXP helps provide consistency and integration, helping users to have a similar experience across multiple platforms. A UXP, in short, provides significant efficiencies.

 Gartner suggests vendors have been slow to match demand and that the market will emerge through 2013. Some specialists, however, are ahead of the game – and the analyst’s hype cycle identifies edge IPK as a UXP vendor.

 Once again, it’s nice to be proven correct and even better that our good work is recognised. My advice is to take a look at the UXP now; it’s increasingly a business necessity and you will be way ahead of your competitors.

Further reading:

Microsoft wake up to smell the coffee

November 11, 2010

Another month, another confusing set of stories relating to Microsoft’s web framework Silverlight and the next generation mark-up language HTML5.

I wrote about the relationship previously, referring to Internet Explorer general manager Dean Hachamovitch’s suggestion that the future of the web is HTML5. More specifically, I questioned whether Microsoft’s support for HTML5 left Silverlight out in the cloud.

The answer for a few weeks, at least according to the team in Redmond, was at the centre of the next generation web. In a blog posting (see further reading, below), Microsoft’s director of product management for developer platforms Brad Becker stated that Microsoft remained committed to Silverlight – and that the framework extends the web by enabling scenarios that HTML does not cover.

That comment, in itself, was not surprising. HTML5 remains a work in progress, with developments on various platforms continuing to be developed. Silverlight, as Becker states in his own posting, is already installed on 600,000,000 desktops and devices.

But success is not just about numbers. Take the related area of mobile operating systems, where Symbian remains the leading mobile OS with about 40% of the market, according to analyst Gartner (see further reading).

Those figures, however, include the legacy of Nokia’s previous success. The smart phone market is leading to the ever-increasing growth – and inevitably the dominance – of Research in Motion, Apple and Android.

The same will be true in web development. Do not assume people will use a specific platform just because a provider has a ready-made user base. More to the point, Microsoft seems to be coming round to that way of thinking.

Bob Muglia, Microsoft’s head of servers and tools division, gave an interview at the company’s Professional Developers Conference and said that Silverlight was still “core” to Microsoft but the company was looking to other technologies to allow people to access online services (see further reading).

Muglia attempted to cool the situation in a blog posting (see further reading), suggesting his comment that the company’s Silverlight strategy had shifted was simply a comment on how the industry had changed. It was a suggestion that, rather then cool the situation, helped to add petrol to an already well-stoked fire.

Developers rounded on Muglia, posting comments on his blog which suggested they felt hurt and that Silverlight’s reputation had been left damaged: “The effort needed to restore our confidence in Silverlight is tantamount to unringing a bell,” suggested one poster.

HTML5 is a work in progress, but its progress is also startling. Non-believers – even at Microsoft’s Redmond HQ – are beginning to wake up and smell the coffee. Confusion reigns but sense, and HTML5, will win out in the end. Now somebody needs to pass the coffee cup to Adobe !

Further reading:

Continous Experience Improvement is the customer winner

August 3, 2010

Times might continue to be tough, but there is no excuse for ignoring the demands of your client.

 Your company lives or dies by its ability to service existing customers and attract new business. The distraction of new and fast-changing economic pressures is no excuse for ignoring the basic tenets of customer service.

 The organisations that strive to make sure clients are well-serviced will emerge strongest in the upturn. In fact, improving customer experience is the best way to attract new clients and retain old business.

 Take a recent survey from Watermark Consulting, which says that from 2007 to 2009 – through the best and worst of times – customer experience leaders in the insurance business generated total returns that were 145% better than customer experience laggards.

 As ever, attention to detail matters. Your boss is likely to be concerned by value. Approach him with a project that aims to deliver “a good customer experience” and he is likely to mutter disparagingly about return on investment.

 As Watermark suggest, some business leaders are reticent to invest in improving and differentiating their customer touch points because it can be difficult to quantify the resulting bottom line benefits.

 The economic crisis means capital for new projects is likely to be limited, even non-existent. A project that proposes an intangible increase in customer experience will fall on deaf ears. Instead, act to make sure customer experience is viewed as a business necessity.

 You simply must demonstrate how businesses that deliver a positive customer experiences are rewarded in the form of better financial performance.

 Turn to the web and think of the user interface. How do your customers interact with your business and how collaborative is your presentation layer?

 You do not have to spend big to improve customer service at the front-end. Making use of existing resources and legacy applications is the easiest way to produce a cost-effective improvement in user service.

 Aim for simplicity and find ways to display complex, but useful, information in a customer-friendly form. Act in an open manner and look for a platform that will help your business to deploy information from customised apps and white label products across multiple channels.

 Your loyal customers – both external and internal – will notice the front-end improvements. And your boss will notice the cost effective way you have created customer experiences that impact the bottom line positively.


User Experience Platforms: Get your processes right first

July 5, 2010

If you want to get the user experience right, you will need to concentrate on processes before you start worrying about selecting the right supporting web development tools.

 As mentioned in one of my recent blog posts, more providers and businesses are paying attention to the user experience platform (UXP), a framework covering skills, processes, standards and technologies for User Experience.

 Major analysts, such as Gartner, IDC and Forrester are already paying significant attention to the user experience. Expect that attention to become more focused, because UXP is likely to become one of the key business IT phrases during the next year-or-so.

 There is likely to a great deal of focus on how web applications are designed and which tools will help produce a customer-friendly experience. But building the application is only part of the problem.

 While a focus on development and technology in UXP is important, your business will actually need to place most of its focus on process and measurement first– and a series of supporting applications will be needed.

 First, creating wireframes and visualising the application long before it is fully developed as an application is absolutely crucial. Prototyping – and being able to modify the code simply to meet user needs – is the key here.

 Second, user experience metrics tools will also be significant in assessing usability. Without the correct analytical tools, how will you measure user satisfaction and make the right modifications to maximise the efficiency and effectivness of users?

Third, apart from usability your marketing team will want to validate that you have adopted their online branding guidelines. You don’t want to upset the marketeers, they hold most of the budget when it comes to UXP.

 Fourth, you will need to provide a series of supporting documents. Providing the right documentation through the whole design process is a fundamental tenet of providing a strong UXP.

 Finally, you will need to provide the right test ground to check how the application works in different browsers, is not open to security issues and performs well for during maximum usage.

 If that sounds overly complicated, think again: establishing the right UXP is far from simple for a reason. In short, the right presentation layer relies on the right underlying processes.

 All these elements must be considered long before you worry about the development tools – such as Microsoft Silverlight or Adobe Flex – that will help you build your perfect web page.

 Get the processes right and you will be able to meet customer-friendly web applications that meet a broad range of users expectations and tastes.


Act Intelligently To Ensure E-Forms Are Applications

May 26, 2010

 This might be the information age but we are still obsessed with paper. As much as 62% of important documents are still archived as paper, according to content management association AIIM.

 Worse still, we often fail to use electronic forms of delivery when our fascination with the printed word is broken. Rather than simplifying business processes, electronic formatting too often adds a further layer of complication.

 Electronic forms – or e-forms – are a digital version of paper forms that should help eliminate the need to rely on paper. E-forms should also help firms encode data for multiple purposes, so that electronic data can be used in various ways to help improve information processing.

 But rather than implement a simple and disciplined approach to electronic form-filling, too many companies have multiple versions of ‘the truth’ stored in many different formats, from paper to spreadsheets and onto online forms of encoding.

 The simple message to technology leaders facing this morass of information is stop and think about the way your firm processes data. Analyst Gartner has produced a five-stage maturity model to help businesses bridge the paper-to-digital divide.

 The model provides a way for firms to deliver a return on investment as they move from paper-based data gathering to an optimised management process at the final level.

 However, there is some worrying news. Just 20% of large enterprises will have reached the fifth level of Gartner’s maturity model for e-forms by the end of 2010, according to the analyst.

 More attention, then, needs to be paid to e-forms. Even more critically, real concentration must be centred on how information is collected as part of the end-user experience.

 Gartner’s fifth stage of maturity suggests that the e-form should become the single graphical user interface. Such an approach optimises data gathering, database management and customer engagement. To quote Gartner: “It’s a form, but it’s also a rich application”.

 Using rich internet applications (RIAs) – fully-featured software that runs in a browser – should allow your business to gather relevant data and complete transactions quicker. The whole user experience will be centred in one place, without the need for individuals to complete extraneous e-forms.

 Such speed and convenience will mean your business can move towards an optimised management process. But becoming one of the firms that has a mature approach to e-forms will mean you need to act intelligently.


Birth of the UX Designer

May 13, 2010

Your biggest fear – given the ongoing evolution of technology – should be that your firm’s cutting-edge web developments are already being blunted by the fast pace of change on the internet.

Such change is all about meeting the customers’ needs through user-focused development. Analyst Gartner recently reported that Ajax technologies and rich internet application (RIA) platforms – tools and systems that help promote a responsive user experience – are moving from the early adopter phase of market evolution to enterprise-level adoption.

Sounds good but there’s a significant catch. Organisations looking to spend on the web are often keen to initiate a form of development that is less flat, and increasingly sexy and intuitive. But such organisations often lack the design skills to make such a leap.

There are multiple reasons for this new, interactive skills gap. First, businesses that think  customer experience is all about the “look and feel” are woefully unaware of the truth. Another key aspect is usability – and quite often, this is a skill that eludes some designers, as the ability for programmers to design a nice look and feel remains elusive.

Knowing the boundaries of what is technically possible in the creation of an interactive design is also crucial. Your designers need to be able to create the experience you require – and quite often designers are not “developers”, so they don’t often appreciate “the art of the possible”.

To create a more intuitive web experience for customers, you need great design, usability and programming skills…welcome to the birth of  user experience (UX) designers.

These specialist professionals are immersed in how your product is perceived, learned and used. Rather than simply tweaking an already-failing site, UX designers will bring together business experience and customer demands to create a more inituitive online product.

Welcome to the future, where your customer interface isn’t simply coded but created – and more importantly – is a pleasure to use.


User Experience Analytics (UEA)

May 4, 2010

For companies that treat their web sites as another piece of marketing collateral, creating a good looking site is their end-game. For anyone that treats the web as an efficient and effective sales channel, managing their online presence is a continual cycle in customer experience management.

The cycle of create/monitor/refine relies on a three-pronged approach of creating a site, monitoring its use and refining the experience to meet new demands.

To measure a sites effectiveness, one method is to use specialist analytics software, either open source, hosted (for example, Google Analytics) or proprietary (such as Webtrends).

Such tools capture information about web site behaviour, such as who has visited, when they clicked and how long they spent at each destination. The information can be extremely helpful for organisations hoping to develop targeted marketing, interactive advertising and search optimisation.

But creating honed behavioural analytics can be a complicated task. Each page needs to be “hooked in”, so that pages are tagged and individual hits and user behaviour recorded.

If behavioural analytics tell you “what the user did” on your site, quite often it is the transactional data (data they have entered into online forms) that tells you “why the user behaved” in a certain way.

However transactional data is normally held separately in an organisation MI Database and is only captured if the user completes a process – for example, receiving a home insurance quote. However, to find out why users don’t get to the end of a process firms have to undertake separate programming to capture the transactional data. Such programming helps to ensure that transactional information is recorded in databases and the intelligence passed to an analytics engine. But once again, such a process is complex and time-intensive.

So, here’s an idea – wouldn’t it be great if you could easily combine behavioural and transactional data? Such an approach would really create 1+1=3, as web designers and business experts can analyse and tweak customer experiences based on intelligence gathered from actual usage.

Evidence comes from our work at edge IPK. We worked alongside a large financial organisation, analysing behavioural data to identify the most common page that users left without completing an insurance quotation form. From the behavioural information, we knew that most users not completing a car insurance quote left on the page where they would enter their car details. The additional transactional data told us that users would select a car maker, but would leave before selecting a car model.

We quickly concluded that users were leaving at this point because they could not find the model of car they wanted to insure. The result was an increase in quotes and, more importantly, an increase in sales.

Happy customers and new business. Isn’t it time you tweaked your user experience analytics to ensure all potential metrics are covered?