A move to user-centric IT development will help technology meet the needs of the users, says Mike Tilley.
Few people doubt that IT is central to the success of modern organisations. Over the past 20 years, every large company has deployed a wide range of applications which have greatly increased the speed at which business transactions take place.
So why is it that IT departments so often have a dirty name? Go into any company and ask end-users what they think of the IT they work with and more often than not you will get an unenthusiastic response.
Typical complaints are that the systems are standardised to the point of being irrelevant and/or they are overly complex, or multiple applications are needed for workers to do their jobs. In short, the technology does not match their needs.
Worryingly for CIOs, some groups of users have taken matters into their own hands. Small development teams have sprung up within user communities which use simple tools and leverage mainstream IT applications to create something which more closely meets users' needs.
These development teams are often seen as heroes by the user groups they represent, but they can prove a serious headache for IT departments. The solutions they devise are usually badly engineered and fail to adapt to changes in the core applications.
Meanwhile, IT departments have become bogged down in tough infrastructure projects. Efforts to tie together systems at the back end, using tools such as enterprise application integration, are of course essential. But they don't improve the way a user interacts with the applications, and thus fail to deliver big improvements in user productivity.
All of this suggests that a change of approach to IT development and deployment is required which directly addresses the needs of users. I made this change and believe it is key to meeting the challenges that all CIOs face. By adopting user-centric development, the IT team will be more in tune with the user communities it serves.
The implementation of a user-centric approach to IT development is now becoming possible, thanks to User Process Management (UPM) technologies, which look to simplify and customise user experiences of IT applications. User-focused companies such as Corizon are providing UPM software that encourages IT developers to understand activities users go through to complete a single business task.
They can then create a "composite application" which gives the user a single interface that supports the tasks associated with their role. Behind this easy interface the technology is interacting with multiple applications, both packages and bespoke legacy.
In environments such as customer contact centres, the benefits of the user-centric approach become apparent.
For example, in one Corizon implementation, customer agents had to re-key data 14 times and navigate seven screens across three applications. With a unified user interface, re-keying is eliminated and they navigate two screens within one application.
I believe the introduction of user-centric development represents a major change in the way we bring technology to the various user communities we serve.
What do you think?
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Mike Tilley was formerly CIO of BT retail and now works as a consultant to software supplier Corizon