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How IT Ops can boost your user experience

Jose Coronado Founder and Principal, ITX Digital
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Traditionally, IT has often been wary of users, but this perspective has changed radically over the last few years. Companies are now embracing user experience (UX) as a core element of their strategy, as a way to realize business value. UX puts people at the center of software development, with the primary focus being to deliver the right product to the marketplace, addressing the needs and expectations of customers.  

Until recently, UX designers needed to fight their way into the application development process. Teams were focused on creating products that followed the feature roadmap, and that were to some extent functional and visually appealing. Today, UX is driving a business and cultural transformation at the strategic level, with much more ambitious goals centered around what's being called “design thinking.”  

3 steps for UX design-thinking

The focus on design has moved from a product-centric philosophy to a three-step process:

  • Think about problems from the perspective of the user's needs.
  • Conduct iterative research and application validation to understand the needs and motivations of your users.
  • Prototype and iterate quickly to learn what works, and to arrive at the right application sooner.  

By doing these things, organizations not only shorten the software development lifecycle and reduce costly rework, but they end up with applications that advance overall business goals.  

When applied to IT development, UX design is truly revolutionary. Traditionally, IT focused on the operational and infrastructure aspects of supporting the business. In the last five to seven years, IT has played a stronger strategic leadership role in the organization by embracing a design-thinking culture, paying closer attention to both internal and external users, and moving more swiftly and with greater agility when developing applications. 

 IT organizations still play an important operational role by keeping the lights on. IT Ops can potentially make a much greater impact, however, by actively participating in the design transformation of the organization—fostering innovation and avoiding the risk of stagnating or being overrun by out of control shadow IT activities. 

How UX design supports the consumerization of IT

Users expect more today. In their personal lives, they’re used to having easy-to-learn, easy-to-use, fun technologies at their fingertips. If they need more functionality for their tablets or smartphones, they download new apps. If they need technology support for their personal devices, they turn to self-service, software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications they can use with no up-front investment and a minimal learning curve.  

Enterprise users are increasingly impatient with long wait times, clunky interfaces, and outright denials for innovative technology tools from their IT organizations. And when they don’t get what they want from IT, they act like consumers. When they want a new app, they download it. When they need cloud services, they hand over a credit card.

But these "shadow IT" activities raise security and financial risks for organizations.  

By focusing on a design-driven culture, you can mitigate such risks. You just need to dedicate your IT organization to delivering the right solutions to meet users’ expectations. By “expectations” I mean creating user experiences that are intuitive and easy, as well as innovative, high performing, highly available, and scalable. The UX must be capable of taking your business to the next level.

Build a learning and collaborative culture

In developing these experiences, UX emphasizes early application prototyping, agility, validation, and experimentation. It creates an organizational culture of learning.  

When you look at organizations that were leading the technology marketplace 10 or 12 years ago, you notice that many have faded in prominence, and some no longer exist. But a handful of companies are thriving, thanks to their agility, continuous validation, iteration, and willingness to experiment with innovative products and new technologies.  

Such companies encourage all areas of the organization to collaborate on new application designs. Some dedicate as much as 20% of their time and budgets to experimentation and learning. Other organizations, rather than pursuing a single, big-bang solution, engage multiple teams in smaller efforts that can lead to new and innovative applications. This fosters a culture of learning above that of feature delivery.  

Although many of these experiments may not end up as part of a final application, multidisciplinary application teams are constantly learning, and therefore can quickly understand what is the right solution. In this way, product managers, developers, and UX designers can increase their mutual understanding of the problem they are attempting to solve.  

As the team iterates and moves from validating prototypes to writing code, they have the information and confidence to build a solid, enterprise-class, highly scalable, and high-performing application—whether for internal business users or external customers. 

Best practices for UX in IT

So what are the best practices of mature design-driven organizations? You know you are using this new paradigm for software development if:

  • UX design is a critical component in your company’s overall strategy. From the CEO down, everyone in the organization understands that making user-centric applications is critical to the company’s future success.
  • The UX design process is collaborative. The application teams are multidisciplinary and include business leaders, developers, and designers as equal partners in the process. If the organizational culture favors transparency and inclusion over isolation, it unites IT and business groups, fostering an environment with a strong foundation for enterprise UX initiatives to succeed. Whether you have smaller, leaner teams and engage in agile methodologies, or you follow a more traditional waterfall process, you should always take a collaborative approach to application development.
  • UX design metrics are built into employee incentives. Design metrics such as user adoption rates and user satisfaction are part of the corporate incentive program, so individuals and teams are motivated to integrate UX design experts into the core of the development process.
  • Application teams perform user research throughout the development lifecycle. Mature design-driven businesses have processes and people in place to enable continuous conversations with users. The UX research process is participatory and inclusive, and all team members are exposed directly to their customers.
  • If a critical UX issue arises, the application is not released. Traditionally in IT development, data or performance defects were considered the most critical flaws to uncover during the quality assurance process. In a design-centered organization, UX rises to the top, alongside data and performance. An organization has reached design maturity when its development teams agree not to release an application until the UX is right.
  • Application teams are encouraged to experiment, innovate, and iterate. Encouraging learning and innovation among IT teams is key to creating successful applications.  

Demonstrate the value

Above all, UX leaders need to clearly articulate the importance and strategic value of UX to business leaders and the organization. You need to quantify and demonstrate how a great user experience aligns with the overall strategic goals of the organization.  

Enterprises need design leaders who aren’t shy about playing a critical role in driving digital innovation and cultural transformation programs. And they need IT executives who are willing to partner as catalysts of change. This is what will distinguish the leaders from the laggards. 


Image credit: Flickr

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