The Hidden UX We Miss

Apr
14
2008

We all produce near perfect interfaces for web sites, with a user experience that is optimal for the clients audience and budget. That’s a given. After all the dark years we are all doing it the right way, or at least trying to. Right?

Is there a UX elephant in the room

And as the user experience spotlight has streamed over the web, it is now focusing on the Intranets of many organisations.

Rise of the Intranet

Now an Intranet can be a completely different beast than the corporate web site. For starters it’s not just about a single web site, it can be multiple sites over distributed and differing solution architectures. Containing various off the shelf applications from CRM, accounting, records and knowledge management and the like.

Implementation of a full UX on a intranet is hard. To really do a complete implementation one has to consider more than just the user interface of the web component. One has to examine all the transactional information, employee knowledge base, the procedural flow, the surplus “noise” information and the data portability of the information. It’s just not about box dropping a predefined solution as the intranet panacea (I’m looking at you MS solution providers) onto an organisation.

Still after all this one has to overcome the perception that the implementation of a full UX is really worth the ROI. As the employees are forced to use the intranet anyway, Right?

Yes and no. There are lots of cases, and we all know of them, where the employees have rebelled against bad intranets and just not used them, in some cases recreating a secondary hidden intranet or at worst the old sneaker net, shudder!

I suppose at the end of the day that’s all down to the selling of UX.

The elephant in the room

Okay so intranets do need to be considered for a UX implementation. Granted even with the perceived low ROI set side. However there is another interface that is often forgotten or pushed aside as not important at all.

It’s the online administration console, the back end of the web applications.

How many times have you looked at an admin interface for a forum, CMS, intranet portal tool and just cringed. I have seen employees fight and try and use an admin console, mostly in vain, with some going to extreme measures just to get things done.

So why is the admin console being forgotten, why is it the poor (hicksville) cousin of the UX community.

For the most part it comes down to cost and ROI. Consider how many people are using the console, it’s not many really.

Does it matter that these people are frustrated. No not really, they have no alternative they have to use it to do their jobs; It’s not like they can find an alternative. Also any productively again from redevelopment will be overcome as they become efficient (read “familar”) using the console. Nice logic, eh 🙂

At the end of the day a shrining budget has sadly led to the removal of any basis of UX implementation for the said consoles. Why are we cutting the front end budgets for these interfaces, don’t the employees count. Given the resources an average employer invests on an employee, doesn’t it make good sense to keep them happy or at least less frustrated.

Now I don’t have the answer. Maybe it’s the way the projects are specified and managed that is a fault.

Typically the website is managed by a public relations or marketing section, who are in their nature very customer focused, anything client facing for them is important.

Then typically the the intranet is left to the IT section. Who are the worst people to allocate this to. In reality it should be the knowledge workers or the information management section (records management). As at least they are people and information focused not technical solution providers like IT.

From all of this who looks after the admin consoles, is it IT, it’s an application after all or is it left in the no mans land between the sections being kicked back and forth as a political football.

Whatever the solution or cause, people lets stop building crappy admin console interfaces. On your next project really try and get the admin console to be considered as part of the UX process.

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4 comments

  1. I think a lot of this problem is that the cost of a bad intranet is a bit of a hidden cost.

    How do you quantify the amount of money lost because someone struggled with the interface? How do you prove that the fault is with the system and not the user? How do you prove that better UX would lead to bottom-line cost savings?

    It’s made harder by the fact that, due to their very nature, companies with good intranets can’t/don’t show them off! I’ve seen many articles written about top intranets, but they’re pretty useless articles most of the time since you can’t see what you’re talking about.

    Companies also cling to the idea that they can simply mandate “use the intranet!” as if staff can’t find a way around them.

    Can’t use the arcane calendar system? Switch everyone to Google Calendar or some hosted groupware solution. Can’t share documents through the impenetrable document sharing bohemoth? Screw it, use Pownce.

    The mob is very definitely stronger and faster than the organisation it works for.

  2. Thanks Gary,
    UX. always a hard pill for the accountants to swallow.

    I once did a very quick survey about how long it took an organisation to publish an ‘average’ web page, and to make an ‘average’ web page change / update. (surveyed across a wide selection of web authors I might add, to provide a nice supportive average)

    And then I took to them a prototype which we used to measure the time taken to complete the same tasks.

    Now barring the foibles of the prototype at the time, we were able to demonstrate a significant time saving.

    That said, they still went with a ‘low investment’ tune of the administrative area, because the benefits gained simply were still not in the favour of investing more on the admin side.

    They did however invest more heavily in the client side, which I guess was a decent-ish trade off.

    Sadly, unless the developers take the intitive to invest in the administrative sides of sites, then Business are not likely to take any heed of our pain (as authors and what not).

    But like many things in other industries (automotive, manufacturing, building construction), as time passes, and globally our ability to easily and repeatedly deliver improved background tools, we shall start to see better and better admin sides.

    They still try to make better hammers, despite they all do much the same thing.

  3. The problem for IT (I head the dept) is that everyone who should be involved are too ‘busy’ to get involved, but more than happy to comment after. The people who need to be involved are all too often happy to watch it sail south to IT, at least they dont have to do MORE work, and then they can moan about it later … the IT folk are not suprised by this, it’s par for the course!

  4. @dean that’s where you need to call in the famous UX consultant to weave their magic and solve all the worlds problems before 11:00. 🙂

    Seriously the use of externals often plugs the gap. Sadly budget and some IT manager egos tend to stop this process.

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