Category: User Experience


Special Series: Taming the Intranet Beast, Part 2

Part Two: Intranets Are All about Vacation and Money

In the second of a five-part series on Taming the Intranet Beast, senior consultant Denise Eisner highlights two of the top things employees care most about when it comes to Intranets.

The essence of the employer/employee relationship is this: employees are paid for work performed and they get days off from work with pay. Understanding how pay and vacation is given in an organization is often described on departmental Intranets via policies, agreements, guidelines and forms that support how and when employees collect salary or overtime, and when they can take time off.

Unfortunately, surveys of users and heuristic (usability) reviews of Intranets reveal that many of these sites don’t provide the means to do any tasks related to pay or benefits easily or efficiently. The most common issues with Intranets include:

  • Sites that use practitioner jargon, not plain language – Employees describe compensation as pay and leave as vacation. Yet a majority of sites yield to human resources terms because those groups author the content and determine navigation labels.
  • Corporate content is outdated and/or duplicated – The new vacation request form has been posted but the old one is still available. Sound familiar?
  • Few if any of these key tasks are available via the home page – Employees might find pay and vacation content two, three or four clicks in from the home page, which is frequently the default page when the browser opens. Rather than get right to their chosen task, they have to fight the information architecture. This loss of productivity can cost the organization 90 cents a minute per employee.
  • FAQs are not – The use of the frequently asked question has devolved into a convenient format for web content but it rarely reflects what users actually want to know. By not having informative FAQs, HR advisors end up responding to the same questions over and over.
  • Bad forms – Form design is a special practice that takes into account logic models, taxonomy, visual design and functional requirements. The result of bad form design is bad data, delayed processing and a good amount of frustration for all.

Fixing the Vacation and Pay Design Problem

Identifying the key tasks related to vacation and pay and positioning those tasks within easy reach of users will go a long way toward improving Intranet usability. Task analysis, card sorting, and paper prototyping are helpful activities that can uncover most of the common issues with navigation and site structure with respect to these tasks.

However, fixing vacation and pay tasks online is not just an information architecture problem. Supporting these tasks also means analyzing how the task gets completed beyond the Intranet site. If for example a request form gets automatically sent to an email account that is monitored by one employee, what happens when that employee is away? Or, if a vacation form submitted online requires another employee to rekey that information into a legacy system, what processes are in place to prevent errors? Could there be some automation to prevent rekeying in the first place? Web teams are not typically tasked with these considerations, but given the impacts on user satisfaction and productivity, this situation calls for collaborative business process solutions to identify weaknesses, determine roles and responsibilities, design potential solutions and test them before releasing them to employees.

In Part Three of this series, Denise Eisner shows how putting tasks ahead of employee newsletters is smart Intranet management.

Special Series: Taming the Intranet Beast

Part One: the Intranet is an Expensive Help Desk

In the first of a five-part series on Taming the Intranet Beast, senior consultant Denise Eisner explains why not fixing a broken departmental Intranet wastes millions of dollars each year to lost productivity.

Several times each day, an employee goes looking for information that by all accounts should be found on a departmental Intranet. Sidestepping the dubious search engine, the hunt-and-click quest begins, pitting employee against byzantine information architectures, rogue sites, duplicated content and countless out-of-date newsletters. Ten minutes into the task and no resolution in sight, the frustrated employee consults an office mate, who now joins the task for another five minutes. In the end, they both give up, and the unfortunate employee is now left staring at the phone and plotting the next move.

The sad reality is that the answer was likely somewhere on the site but irretrievable due to confusing navigation, absent site governance, poor writing, lack of search engine optimization (or a decent search engine), etc.

This scenario is common among government employees, stemming from a series of poor decisions and inaction about the department’s Intranet. This inaction bears real consequences, not the least of which is that the employee didn’t get to do something other than the Intranet task for a portion of those 15 minutes.

To look at this dilemma in more stark terms, assume an average loaded rate for a government employee at $94,000.00 (C.D. Howe report, page 5). Allowing for work days equal to 46.6 weeks (including three weeks for vacation and 12 stat holidays), multiply 46.6 by days (233), hours (1,747.5) and minutes (104,850), and you arrive at a per-minute employee cost of $0.90. Multiply that cost by 20 (employee #1’s 15 minutes and employee #2’s 5 minutes to help) and you have spent $18.00 to not find information that should be readily available on the Intranet.

Extrapolating this one example to a department makes the Intranet beast even more deadly. If just half of the employees in a 4,000 FTE department only had one information retrieval task a day that did not succeed (and that’s being generous), then the total cost for one day’s worth of fruitless searches is $36,000.00. The yearly tab? Your management should be astounded to learn that lost annual productivity for a department of that size at these rates to find basic information online hovers around 8.4 million dollars.

After this reality sinks in, can you afford not to fix your Intranet?

In Part Two of this series, the Intranet is distilled into the two things that employees care most about and should be fixed first.

Make Your Boss Love You!

Using Agile Prototyping to Increase Client Satisfaction and Internal Efficiencies

By Stephen Karam

What if I told you that you could design, create, test, and document a winning business solution – all while fully engaging partners and senior executives – in 3-6 months, leading to significant client uptake and risk reduction? Before you call me crazy (or presumably worse), read on…

It’s intrigued me how so many Government of Canada (GC) investments labelled with the ever-sexy moniker of “transformation” never really realize their originally intended benefits, and usually cost a fortune: the type of fortune that attracts unwanted attention from the OAG and media. This does not make the boss happy.

Here is a typical example: Department “X” creates a business case for an IT-enabled business initiative that sings to senior management. They receive several million dollars in TBS funding. They build the business solution. Corporate and program areas in the department find it difficult to use said business solution and disengage. Department “X” then spends an exorbitant amount of taxpayer dollars maintaining an IT solution with eroding business value and little goodwill amongst its target users and stakeholders, both internal and external.

This scenario sheds light on a series of systemic flaws in the GC when it comes to creating successful business and service transformation outcomes. One of those flaws is that many departmental IT organizations under the CIO still apply the waterfall methodology to the development life cycle. They move serially from requirements gathering (if done at all), to analysis, to design, to build, to test, to implement. Throw in a procurement cycle or two in there and voila! A two- to three-year timeframe has lapsed before there’s any output at all! Executives have little tolerance for this approach, since there are no “announcables” until the end of the waterfall.

We need to remember that success in the GC transformation space is not only about a strong business case, executive leadership, capable resources, solid governance, and a bulletproof solution; it’s about how you play the game. As Coach Vince Lombardi once said, “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the ONLY thing!”

So here’s a game plan that has worked over the past couple of years for two projects: Industry Canada’s BizPaL 2.0 and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s AgPal. Both are similar content discovery systems that allow users to find relevant information and services from across jurisdictional boundaries via the Internet. One is aimed at helping Canadian businesses discover permits and licences; the other is for Canadian farmers and agri-industries to access available programs and services. Both have employed the same agile prototyping approach with the client’s understanding that these projects are about solving the data/content/process challenge, and not the technology challenge.

The prototyping allowed for early engagement of partners (i.e. provinces, federal programs) to “kick the tires” on the requirements before one line of code was written or a single dollar was spent on technology. The method was pretty straightforward:

  • Scope the prototype (who are the partners/contributors, scope of content, ideal timeframe to produce “release 1”, preliminary architecture);
  • With partners, define client scenarios to be addressed by the prototype;
  • Identify and gather partner content within scope, aggregate and categorize;
  • Develop user interface, based on client scenarios;
  • Iterate prototype behaviour with partners;
  • Usability test the prototype;
  • Document business and functional requirements, as a direct reflection of the prototype;
  • Validate requirements with partners; and
  • Engage implementation team.

While a simplification of the actual process, it’s easy to see the key steps that can be systematically employed to every implementation, whether it is a client-facing web service offering, or a critical internal business system. This approach significantly reduces risk of the final implementation since the stakeholders (partners and clients) have actually had a chance to use the solution in practice, rather than react to wireframes or written scenarios.

Hey, if you were building a house and you were given the chance to experience it before the foundation is even poured … wouldn’t you take it?

Hear more about agile development during Stephen’s presentation on Top-Down Implementation in a Bottoms-Up World at GTEC 2011, October 18, 1 p.m., at the Ottawa Convention Centre.

Stephen V. Karam can be found on LinkedIn, and reached at karam@systemscope.com.

Finding ROT Is Only the Beginning

by Denise Eisner

The ROT (Redundant, Outdated and Trivial) web content reduction exercise underway in many federal Canadian government departments and agencies will prove to be a win on several fronts:

• Users will be able to find content more easily;
• Departments will have less inventory to keep aligned with evolving Common Look and Feel standards; and
• Any energy spent on improving content will go toward high demand web assets.

The process typically begins with a content audit, looks at performance metrics to assess usage and then goes through an evaluation process to determine what stays.

But when the audit is over, will the organization know how to:

• Determine what goes on the web, why and for how long;
• Understand web content relative to official records;
• Communicate life cycle guidance and policies to content owners; or
• Identify archival strategies for low-demand content that should not be on the web?

These considerations fall under the practice of life cycle management, which brings together the communications and information management disciplines to formulate appropriate policies and guidance for the organization. It’s a relatively new piece of policymaking that simply requires an understanding of what business rules apply to online assets and then devising operational guidance that is triggered by a business decision to remove content.

If ROT is your department’s diet blitz, consider life cycle management as the ongoing maintenance plan to keep the bloat out of your web presence.

Denise Eisner is a senior consultant within the Government Service Excellence practice.

GTEC 2011

Systemscope returned to GTEC again this year on October 18, 2011. Three informative and compelling workshops were presented by our consultants paired with innovative public servants.

PRESENTATIONS NOW AVAILABLE! (see individual session descriptions below)

(Version française)



Workshop #1 View the presentation!

Finding Savings: Back to Basics
Gail Eagen, DG of IT Operations, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Kellen Greenberg, Director Integrated Process Management, Systemscope
Kathy Roy, Senior Consultant, Systemscope

 

Departments have a renewed focus on identifying cost-savings and efficiency gains through new GC deficit reduction initiatives. And contrary to popular belief, finding savings does not have to be as painful as you may think.[spoiler title=”Read More”] It even presents an exciting opportunity to transform the way we do business and serve Canadians better. It is an opportunity, however, that requires a proven and structured response.

Systemscope has been working with our clients to develop just that. We have brought together a framework that includes a series of management decision-making tools to facilitate the cost reduction process. Our approach can better structure your initiative for greater success.

This session presented our innovative approach to delivering tangible and sustainable cost-savings as part of an operational review process and as a regular means of managing your daily work.  Gail Eagen , DG of IT Operations, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Kellen Greenberg, Director Integrated Process Management, and Kathy Roy, Senior Consultant, shared real life experiences and ‘tools’ that have been adopted by public, private and crown corporation clients.

[/spoiler]



Workshop #2 View the presentation!

Top-Down Implementation in a Bottoms-Up World
Stephen Karam, Partner and Practice Lead, Government Service Excellence, Systemscope
Jennifer Conlin, Assistant Director, Service Transformation, Service Analysis and Transformation Divison, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Dan Batista, Director, Service Innovation, Industry Canada

Remember the days in Government when it took 2-3 years for IT-enabled business solutions to see the light of day, only to result in almost immediate erosion and obsolescence?  Using the traditional waterfall approach of ensuring that business requirements are fully captured before functional design and solution architecture can take place usually leads to timelines that are no longer acceptable in the new government culture of strategic & operational review and fiscal restraint.[spoiler title=”Read More”] The cries of “We need to see savings now!” paradoxically coupled with “We can’t degrade client service!” can be heard echoing through many a hall in GC departments and agencies.  These new priorities are creating a demand for shorter cycles to achieving outcomes and measurable results.

Systemscope has recognized this change in landscape and has been working with government departments such as HRSDC, Industry Canada and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to develop online transformational business solutions including a grants & contributions (Gs&Cs) environment, BizPaL 2.0 and AgPal using a top-down design approach.  This methodology takes a page from the agile development approach by simply allowing for design, user experience, and content modeling iterations to be performed with eventual users and administrators of the system, prior to any functional design and architecture work taking place.  By building a prototyping sandbox using real data and processes, this allows departments to “kick the tires” on the requirements prior to setting them in stone, ensuring that whatever requirements are output have actually be tested with users, contributing to success and demand of the solution.  Furthermore, it’s a surefire way to get executives excited about a transformation initiative when they can actually see it in action!

Stephen Karam (Systemscope Partner and Practice Lead, Government Service Excellence), Jennifer Conlin, Assistant Director, Service Transformation, Service Analysis and Transformation Divison, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Dan Batista, Director, Service Innovation, Industry Canada facilitated a healthy discussion of the myriad benefits of this approach, remaining challenges and a review of info systems currently under development using this approach.

[/spoiler]



Workshop #3 View the presentation!

eBay-style Architectures for Government Information
Linda Daniels-Lewis,  Senior Consultant, Enterprise Information Management, Systemscope

New information architectures are less about “filing” information and more about “using” information and performing actions on information. We have been working with our clients to develop optimized information architectures for team collaboration, for information use and sharing, and for the retention and disposition of records that are more integrated with their business process and that provide search and navigation experiences more like those on popular Internet sites. [spoiler title=”Read More”]

We have focused on removing the responsibility of users to declare records and on removing the constraints of folders, requiring people to know how to navigate deep hierarchies and agree on whether to file their documents by, for example, subject or date under the various sub-activity folders. Using document properties as content filters, the experience of using enterprise knowledge stores can now feel more like using e-commerce sites and information portals with dynamic, guided navigation techniques.

This session presented the results of some of our architecture implementation concepts using SharePoint 2010 information constructs to produce agile, flexible information architectures to support business activities. Linda Daniels-Lewis, Systemscope Senior Consultant, explained how we have used the following SharePoint 2010 features to improve collaboration, separate transitory information from information of business value, automatically identify and declare key records, and separate active and inactive records for retention and disposition purposes:

– site templates
– libraries
– content types
– managed metadata
– workflows
– with minimum use folders

[/spoiler]

GTEC 2011

Systemscope a retourné au GTEC le 18 octobre 2011 avec trois convaincantes présentations riches en renseignements.

Les présentations sont maintenant disponible! (en anglais seulement)


Atelier no 1

Dénicher des économies : un retour aux sources
Gail Eagen, DG d’Opérations TI, Agriculture et agroalimentaire Canada
Kellen Greenberg, directeur de la gestion de procédés intégrés, Systemscope
Kathy Roy, conseillère principale, Systemscope

Les ministères orientent à nouveau leurs efforts sur l’identification d’économies de coûts et de gains d’efficacité dans le cadre d’initiatives de réduction du défit au GC. Et contrairement à ce qu’on pourrait s’imaginer, il n’est pas toujours pénible de dénicher des économies de coûts.[spoiler title=”Pour en savoir plus”]

En effet, il peut s’agir d’une occasion excitante de transformer la manière dont nous faisons affaire et de mieux servir les Canadiens et les Canadiennes. Une opportunité qui toutefois nécessite une approche systématique éprouvée.

Justement, Systemscope a collaboré avec ses clients pour élaborer cette approche. Nous avons développé un cadre conceptuel qui comprend une série d’outils décisionnels pour les gestionnaires qui facilite le processus de réduction de coûts. Notre approche offre une structure qui saura orienter votre initiative vers le succès.

Cette session a présenté notre approche novatrice pour produire des réductions de coûts viables et tangibles dans le cadre d’un processus d’examen opérationnel ainsi que la gestion opérationnelle quotidienne. Gail Eagen, DG d’Opérations TI, Agriculture et agroalimentaire Canada, Kellen Greenberg, directeur de la gestion de procédés intégrés, et Kathy Roy, conseillère principale de chez Systemscope ont partagé des cas vécus  et des « outils » adoptés par des clients du domaine public et privé et des sociétés d’État.

[/spoiler]



Atelier no 2

Une mise en œuvre descendante dans un monde en ascension
Stephen Karam, directeur de l’excellence du service gouvernemental, Systemscope
Jennifer Conline, Directrice adjoint, Division des Analyses et transformation des services, Agriculture et agroalimentaire Canada
Dan Batista, Directeur, Innovation dans les services, Industrie Canada

Vous vous rappelez des jours où au gouvernement, une période de 2 à 3 ans était nécessaire pour créer des solutions d’affaires de TI qui devenaient presque immédiatement érodées et dépassées ? L’utilisation de la traditionnelle approche en cascade voulant que toutes les exigences organisationnelles soient identifiées avant de procéder à un design fonctionnel et une solution d’architecture mène à des délais qui ne sont plus acceptables au sein de la nouvelle culture d’examen stratégique et opérationnel et de réductions budgétaires du gouvernement.[spoiler title=”Pour en savoir plus”] Les exigences d’ «  économies immédiates! » paradoxalement juxtaposées à celles de « niveaux de la clientèle qui n’en souffriront pas ! » font écho dans plusieurs bureaux des ministères et agences du GC. Ces nouvelles priorités exigent un cycle plus court qui mène aux objectifs voulus et à des résultats mesurables.

Systemscope a identifié cette évolution et a collaboré avec certains ministères dont RHDCC, Industrie Canada et  Agriculture et Agroalimentaire Canada pour développer des  solutions d’affaires transformationnelles en ligne dont un environnement de subventions et contributions (S et C), PerLE 2.0 et AgPal à l’aide d’une approche de conception descendante. Cette méthodologie est à l’image de l’approche de développement agile qui permet d’effectuer simplement des itérations de design, d’expérience utilisateur et de modélisation du contenu par les utilisateurs et administrateurs éventuels du système, avant d’effectuer tout travail de design et d’architecture fonctionnels. En bâtissant un prototype à l’aide de vraies données et de processus, les ministères peuvent donc le mettre à l’essai et déterminer leurs exigences avant de prendre une décision finale, ce qui assure que toute exigence est en fait un résultat testé par les usagers et qui contribuera au succès et à la demande de la solution. De plus, il est beaucoup plus facile de fidéliser les gestionnaires cadres à votre initiative de transformation si vous pouvez leur montrer votre produit en action.

Stephen Karam (Systemscope directeur de l’excellence du service gouvernemental), Jennifer Conlin, Directrice adjoint, Division des Analyses et transformation des services, Agriculture et agroalimentaire Canada et Dan Batista, Directeur, Innovation dans les services, Industrie Canada ont facilité une discussion animée des avantages indéniables de cette approche, des défis qui demeurent et un examen des systèmes d’information qu’on développe présentement à l’aide de cette approche.

[/spoiler]



Atelier no 3

Des architectures d’information gouvernementale à la eBay
Linda Daniels-Lewis, conseillère en chef, Systemscope

Les nouvelles architectures de l’information sont moins axées sur la « classification » de l’information et s’orientent plutôt sur leur « utilisation » et les actions à effectuer. Nous collaborons avec nos clients afin de développer des architectures de l’information qui optimisent le travail d’équipe, l’utilisation et le partage des renseignements et la rétention et le déclassement de documents afin de mieux s’intégrer à leurs processus d’affaires et fournir des expériences de recherche et de navigation plus semblables à celles que l’on retrouve sur les sites Internet populaires. [spoiler title=”Pour en savoir plus”]

Pour ce faire, les utilisateurs n’ont plus la responsabilité de déclarer les fichiers et nous avons supprimé les contraintes qu’imposent les répertoires qui exigeaient que les gens sachent comment naviguer des hiérarchies complexes et s’accorder sur la méthode de classification de leurs documents comme, par exemple : par sujet, par date ou dans divers répertoires de sous-activités. En utilisant les propriétés d’un document comme filtres du contenu, l’expérience d’utilisation des magasins de connaissances de l’entreprise se compare maintenant à l’utilisation de sites de cybercommerce et de portails d’information dotés de techniques de navigation dynamiques et dirigées.

Cette session a présenté les résultats de la mise en œuvre de nos concepts d’architecture d’information à l’aide de SharePoint 2010 afin de produire des architectures d’information agiles et polyvalentes au service des activités de l’entreprise. Linda Daniels-Lewis, Systemscope conseillère en chef, a expliqué la manière dont nous avons utilisé les caractéristiques SharePoint suivantes pour améliorer la collaboration, séparer l’information transitoire de l’information de valeur à l’entreprise, identifier et déclarer automatiquement les fichiers clés et séparer les fichiers actifs et inactifs à des fins de rétention ou de disposition :

– modèles de sites
– librairies
– types de contenu
– gestion de métadonnées
– flux des travaux
– utilisation minimale de répertoires

[/spoiler]

No One Wants to Follow a Government Department

by Denise Eisner

There’s an interesting yet bewildering range of efforts by federal government to be in the social media sphere. There’s the call to action: “Stay Connected”, “Stay Informed”, or “Get Connected”. There’s the obvious: labelling the area above the commercial icons as “Social Media”. And then there’s “Follow Us.”

Aside from maybe one or two notable exceptions, there’s scant evidence that users want to follow an entire department. Government departments are not task-related. They are large organizations with multiple services that may or may not translate into discrete tasks performed by users with different needs.

What users would follow however (and already are in some cases), are themed updates that correlate with tasks in their personal or professional life:

  • Alerts and recalls
  • Border crossing times
  • Harmful chemical substances in consumer products
  • Air quality readings in my geographic area
  • Vaccination clinic locations and hours of operation
  • Upcoming deadlines for public consultations
  • Tips and deadlines related to business tax filing
  • Deadlines for grants and contributions
  • Updates during natural disasters

Notice that these are highly specialized pieces of information. That’s intrinsic to what social media was meant to do: provide a communal place to share information related to a topic or event that a group of people care about.

Here are several ways to break out of the “Follow me” cycle and turn that into “Let me help you”:

  • Identify key tasks. Your web and/or marketing teams might already have the research on this one.
  • Prioritize which tasks are performed most often by audience groups. There are likely some overlaps between what different groups need with respect to timely information.
  • Brainstorm ways you can deliver value-add information via your Twitter feed or Facebook page that would correlate to users’ top tasks.
  • Determine how to measure Followers and Likes to track performance.
  • Develop a linking strategy from your updates to departmental or specialized site content and track that performance as well.

Denise Eisner is a senior consultant within the Government Service Excellence practice.

Closing the Intranet Hellmouth

by Denise Eisner

Dark, scary portals to hell typified by the Buffyverse’s Hellmouth, or “an area fraught with massive supernatural activity” require slayer-level strength to manage effectively (it also helps to know some nifty martial arts moves). So too, do some organization intranets. The byzantine navigation, mysterious rogue sites on separate servers, and complex pages overrun with management objectives, frameworks and strategies on some Intranets make one want to click away as soon as possible. Or, for some web managers, metaphorically stake the demon.

Short of enlisting superhuman forces, there are five things organizations can do to tame their Intranet Hellmouth:

  1. Focus on employee services – There are two fundamental things people care about when it comes to their relationship with an employer: money and vacation. Manage the top user tasks related to those two areas and your web team will score big on client satisfaction. Is it easy to find the leave request form or is it eight clicks from the home page? Catalogue the top user tasks and let those guide the navigation structure.
  2. Ask real users what they think, not stakeholders – Not everyone in the organization uses the site: some people only use one or two apps or have someone else do it for them. It’s challenging to be all things to all people. Listen to the folks who are your true users. Watch them use the site for insight into behaviours.
  3. Clean out the ROT – Make sure the site isn’t cluttered with redundant, outdated or trivial content. That’s a sure way to waste users’ time. Conduct a content audit and perform mini-audits each quarter.
  4. Be a word count freak – Marissa Mayer at Google recounts how they strive to keep the word count on their home page at 28. That kind of ruthless editing takes leadership and an insane amount of negotiating. But the results at Google speak for themselves.
  5. Stay human – Intranets should not be soulless, corporate bulletin boards. Keep the community vibe going with contests, blogs, surveys and profiles of what employees are doing in and outside of work. That said, manage this activity with communication and information architecture specialists who can apply usability, content and design best practices for professional polish.

Are you sitting on an Intranet Hellmouth? Tell us your story.

Denise Eisner is a senior consultant within the Government Service Excellence practice.