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Impact - A Blog by INM

Thoughts on this World Usability Day

November 13, 2008 by Vahe Kassardjian

On this World Usability Day, there are so many topics that I would like to discuss. However, I will concentrate my thoughts today on the timely topic of Enterprise Applications.

Enterprise applications underwent a major revolution about ten years ago, on the brink of the year 2000. Home-grown software was massively replaced by ready-made, though highly configurable, enterprise resource planning tools (ERP's) such as SAP and PeopleSoft. As we’ve previously blogged about, ERP's are undergoing a major evolution these days by disaggregating into independent Lego blocks through service oriented architecture (SOA).

One thing that hasn’t changed since the early days of Enterprise Applications, is the Human-Computer interaction paradigm. Indeed, we had a golden age of "user-friendly" computing with the introduction of Windows, but the core paradigm remains: smart business people meet with smart technical people and build a system which they then document and train the rest of the organization to use. When things don’t work well, they throw more training at it following the common wisdom that if "brute force does not work, you are not using enough of it".

Very little consideration had been given to adapting technology to individuals in an organization. And even when a few visionaries did try, neither the technology nor end-users were ready for it.

But things are different today. The new shift is about "empowering end-users" with technology. We’ve heard this many times in the past and it’s back again. As baby-boomers leave the workforce, they are replaced with a generation of gamers, multi-taskers and Facebook-ers, who come with their own mental prosthetics. Worker shortages will mean that organizations will need to rely on the efforts of every motivated individual they have on staff, instead of having these workers perform lists of tasks that become obsolete faster than engineers can update them. This makes the richness of information and communication a crucial ingredient for success.

Today’s workforce already comes with cognitive extensions and reflexes such as looking up places on Google Maps, keywords in a wiki, and using instant or text messaging for efficient non-intrusive communications.

The challenges of the future will be less about smart people imposing prebuilt systems on the rest of an organization, and more about providing the new work force with the appropriate technological ingredients and guidance to allow the empowered-self to connect and engage with users through rich interfaces and rich content. The workforce of tomorrow will leverage social tools, and will support them with an iterative development strategy that reuses proven building blocks to quickly accommodate emerging needs.