Wednesday, November 09, 2005


issues in enterprise usability

Jakob Nielsen has posted a "Alert box" column on enterprise usability, a topic that has become a keen interest of mine over the past year. It isn't terribly informative, especially given the magnitude of issues involved. He does admit that "group-level usability and enterprise usability are less well defined: they've been researched less and are more variable" than consumer usability.

A couple points of disagreement:

JN: "Total cost of ownership (TCO) is often one of the most important usability metrics at the enterprise level. "

Michael: TCO is a vendor metric used to sell replacement systems. It really isn't about usability at all. The real metric is ROI, which involves the very elusive concept of measuring the productivity for workers of a software application. Developing methods to assess human productivity in enterprise systems is just beginning. It is very difficult, but most anything is better than the total neglect it receives currently.

JN: "for enterprise usability, we need to study the people who run the organization and who know the pain points at levels above an individual contributor's job. Customer roundtables are a good supplement to field studies: they bring together a small group of sysadmins or managers to discuss their own experiences with larger issues of the product's use."

Michael: Talking to managers is important, but customer roundtables is the wrong way to do it. Customer roundtables are no different from inviting managers as stakeholders to a requirements roundtable. In my experience you get a few anecdotes that seem interesting, but have no way to know how big the problem might be, or what else you are missing. Research with managers needs to be grounded in the same contextual research approaches used for endusers, combining observation and discussion around artifacts.

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