CIO Upfront: The user experience guru

Caroline Jones of Aderant says her job is about striving to marry the complex demands of endusers with business strategies. She explains why her field -- user experience -- is becoming a strategic imperative for organisations.

Not all software products are created equal, as adoption rates can vary among different solutions. The key defining factor is user experience, says Jones, who is manager of experience design for legal software provider Aderant, based in Albany, Auckland.

Technology developed with an emphasis on user experience (UX) will create high levels of adoption, increased innovation and the ability to create new cost-reduction opportunities, she says.

User experience is an all encompassing field, she explains. It covers all the different aspects relating to a person's interaction with a company and its services, and involving them in the design process.

While the field has been around for quite some time in other countries, it is just really starting to take off in New Zealand, she says.

Jones joined Aderant, a global company, late last year, and has more than 15 years of experience in the design industry.

Before this, Jones was with the mobile division of FiServe, where she set up and ran the user experience team. The focus of the Auckland office was on mobile, so she and the team worked on apps for banking across the globe.

Aderant provides a comprehensive practice management for legal firms which incorporates everything from financial forecasting to billing and capturing people's time.

These include case management and capturing all notes and documents that a lawyer may gather relating to the case.

The users of Aderant software also include paralegals, and finance and administrative staff in legal firms.

In a software organisation, the user experience team has to come on early in any project, she says.

"When the first spark of an idea is first floated, user experience teams can come in and identify the type of research that can be conducted to surface the right types of insights, they can then coordinate with the product management team and the people that are working on the strategy."

She differentiates UX with UI or user interface design. UI is where you focus on the screen, she states. "That is great and you can work through designing a very usable experience. But if you have not done the earlier stage research, you may have missed the mark when it comes to designing a really useful experience."

William Davis, director of engineering and head of the New Zealand operations for Aderant, says the growth of the entire app and mobile phone markets have "really shifted" people's thinking on user experience.

There's limited visual space on phones and the whole concept of touch has changed the dimensions people are working with, he states."Probably, more than anything, the apps that succeed in the marketplace are those that are attractive and easy to use."

"A lot of software vendors are playing the feature parity game," adds Jones. "When you get to that point, user experience is one of the ways you can differentiate yourself from your competitor."

From Web design to UX

Caroline Jones, Manager of Experience Design, Aderant

"I came through more traditional Web design background," says Jones, who has a diploma in website design.

Her previous roles included Internet experience manager and e-channel analyst.

As a Web designer, she worked with a lot of stakeholders, and one of the areas they were interested in was ROI. "What do we do to tweak the experience to get more conversions

"We spent lot of time working with Google analytics. They would give us numbers on how many people visited and how long they stayed on this page. What they never told us was why."

"That was a huge moment for me," she says. "I started doing a little bit of research and discovered this field of user centred design."

A lot of software vendors are playing the feature parity game.When you get to that point, user experience is one of the ways you can differentiate yourself from your competitor.

She then completed a paper around human computer interaction at the University of Auckland.

"I started transitioning my career from Web design to user experience," she says.

Read more:CIOs: Give priority to technologies to keep up with -- or surpass -- your competitors, reports Forrester

Key differentiator

Jones says user experience is becoming a strategic imperative for organisations as well.

When companies are selecting their software providers, it can be difficult to determine if a software vendor has created a product that will be highly adopted in your company.

She says this is why it is good to focus on the vendor's understanding of UX and how it was applied in the product development.

She says organisations can ask key questions when meeting with the UX team of their potential vendor.

First is whether the vendor has a people centric and evidence based approach that puts the user "front and centre".

An effective UX team will follow a people-centric design approach, using insights gained from direct research to guide design decisions, she states.

"Ask about the team's research objectives and look to understand the insights gleaned around the context of users' goals, wants and needs," she advises. "Look for evidence of a rationalised and data-driven design approach that puts the user front and centre."

Another area to consider is whether the vendor has a multichannel focus. When a user interacts with software across different channels, their expectation is that those channels will work together seamlessly, she explains.

Any one channel should feel like a connected piece of a larger, unified whole, she states. In order for user's expectations to be met with multi-channel experiences, it is essential for UX teams to understand how the various channels relate to one another, the varying contexts-of-use of those channels, as well as the user's interaction and mind-set changes as they move from one channel to another.

The power of internal champions

Jones also has pointers for companies embarking on pilot programs for software deployment.

Most software pilot programs involve a small group of end-users who trial the proposed software for a brief period.

A lot of time when a pilot is put in place, organisations push out software to pilot users, and just leave them, she states. They then come back several months later and conduct a straightforward survey.

Read more:ICT skills hotspots for 2015: Digital marketing, big data and mobile strategies

However, in order to get the most out of your pilot, you need to find out from the software vendor if their UX team can partner with your organisation to assist with this phase of evaluation and refinements, she says .

When an organisation is rolling out new software, there can be nothing more powerful than having internal champions for that product who understand it, she says.

Moreover, if those champions were actively involved in the product's design, this will increase internal excitement and adoption rates throughout the company.

"The user experience team can come in and observe the users, identify the 'pain points' and help make recommendations and design those customisations in a way that won't degrade the existing designs."

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