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Designing a good system isn’t that hard, at least on paper. You work with the people who need to get a job done and you make sure they have the information needed to do their job. You focus on making sure they can do that in a manner that is simple and intuitive, and you’re done.

And then comes reality. A lot of the necessary information is spread across different systems. When you implement your design, you can link all the systems together, hoping the network doesn’t collapse and that the other systems will always be there. However, to ensure a positive user experience for the employee today and in the future, you need to break the rules and store that data.

Put Employees First

I normally talk about putting the client first. When you are building systems for internal use, the employee is your client. The question you must ask yourself is, “What makes things easy for the employee to do their job?” Yes, you need to validate the answer with the employees, but using some empathy can get you started down the road towards a viable, digital solution.

Let’s pretend we are a bank with lots of money that people want to borrow. When you design a loan process you will put a lot of focus on the external web interface. You know if it is too hard to use, people will simply go somewhere else. Even long-standing customers will look elsewhere for a loan if it's too difficult.

But the employees processing the loan are a captive audience. Why should you worry about them?

There are several reasons. The first is if you make it easier to process loans, less mistakes will be made. It also means the number of loans you can process will increase. Both add to the bottom line.

Additionally, if you make a job frustrating, your ability to retain qualified loan processors will drop. And the ones that do leave? They are the best ones who can most readily find a new job and have more initiative. The very employees you least want to lose.

Related Article: Want Better Customer Experiences? Start With Your Employees

Information in the Right Place

Deep down, I’m a database person. Since I first learned about modeling, I’ve an innate instinct for modeling data. I’ve reduced redundancy and ensured that people could always find the answers they needed. That works inside a database where connectivity between tables is ensured. When dealing with information distributed across multiple systems, that is a much riskier bet.

Your loan processors need a lot of information. The applicant provides some as part of their application. You will pull some in from a credit agency. If they are already a client, you will already have information about them in your master account system. However, having the loan processor constantly switch between applications acts as a drag against productivity and allows for information to be lost in translation.

The answer is to store some of that information natively in the application. The system can query for updates when the case is displayed but if a response isn’t quick in coming, the employee can get to work without waiting. Once the entire process is complete, the loan system can update all the relevant systems with its outputs.

Related Article: Information Management Remains a Problem for Many Enterprises

Systems of Truth

None of this changes which system is the system of record. The loan processing system with its cached person information shows the truth at the time of the decision. That is the truth about that loan application record. The truth around the current state cached information still resides in the originating system.

How do you reconcile that?

In some ways, you don’t. Your application should inform people that the displayed information was accurate when the decision was made. That cached data is no longer something you want to dynamically update because the information snapshot from when the decision was made must be preserved. That is the truth of that decision.

However, the truth of the person that the case impacted is stored elsewhere. The loan system tells a chapter of the story. The person’s comprehensive record that tells the full story is where you go to view the full picture of how things stand today.

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Do the Work

All if this can lead to extra work when building your system. You have to reconcile information at different states in different systems. You have to decide when information should be updated and when it should be left alone. You have to make intelligent decisions about what you need to bring over and what you need to leave behind. It may be enough to bring over just enough information to make the loan processor realize they need to research a potential issue elsewhere. Revealing the existence of the issue in the processing application may suffice.

When in doubt, test the application with your employees. Watch how they interact with the system. Ask them to do things and see what happens. Ask them why they are doing what they are doing. Don’t criticize or complement, simply record. Whatever you do, don’t make them feel stupid. They are the experts at how to do their job, not you.

Remember, do not solely focus on the external world of clients. Your employees must be prioritized in these systems. Meeting their needs may take a little work but the improved morale and productivity will pay for itself.