tower fading into the clouds
PHOTO: Fred Rivett

"Good design is actually a lot harder to notice than poor design, in part because good designs fit our needs so well that the design is invisible" — Donald Norman, "The Design of Everyday Things"

Consider this scenario that plays out in some variation in every organization: You're working from home on a Monday morning and after getting a coffee you are all ready to hunker down and get to work. You turn on your computer, and then wait two minutes as it boots up. Logging in to get your email triggers two-factor authentication. You get the code from your phone and type it in to authenticate. Of course, you are only a sip into your coffee, so it takes three tries to get the code right. You access your corporate billing system with yet another username and password. The other application you need requires you log into your VPN before you can use it. Your battery dies when you join a conference call, so you dig out the cord to plug it in. Then network performance drops while you're on the call, causing you to lose the visuals of the shared presentation. Eventually you quit the call and rejoin to see if it helps.

Does any of this sounds familiar? Does it have to be this way? It doesn’t. 

Are IT Requirements Getting in the Way of Your Employees' Experience?

Too often the many needs and requirements of IT systems take precedence over the combined impact of all of these requirements on the user. When designing and planning IT systems, you must consider all of the elements that make up the system and how they impact the end user.

Many components of technology help create a seamless user experience including:

  • Single sign on, removing the need for multiple authentication across applications. Having just one username and password and carrying the credentials across applications removes many interruptions.
  • Software Defined Wide Area Network (SDWan), which can improve the user experience, especially for cloud applications. Today, much of the experience of the user is tied to the performance of the network. SDWan can improve the network performance for those users not directly on the corporate network (typically those people working outside of the head office).
  • Virtual Desktop solutions, removing the need for a virtual private network (VPN). For remote or mobile users virtualizing the desktop can enhance the user experience through increased application performance while removing the intrusiveness of a VPN.
  • Streamlining the desktop image, removing redundant components such as anti-virus. Often the desktop image can suffer from bloat due to the multiple anti-virus security programs. Assessing what is running on the images and removing duplication can boost performance.

Related Article: Providing Flexibility in Workplace Tools Doesn't Mean It's a Free-For-All

How to Start Simplifying the IT Burden 

With many aspects of technology available to create a great user experience the questions would be where to start? I’d suggest taking the following steps:

  1. Understand your users — Within your organization you have different groups of people with different needs. Define the user personas within your organization and within each persona, the different use cases involved in getting their jobs done.
  2. Identify the different technology components — Each user persona uses certain technologies to accomplish their different tasks, which involve multiple components: including the type of device, the applications used, how they authenticate and the network they use. It is important to map these with the user persona in mind.
  3. Measure your implementations — Consider how you might measure the user experience for each of those technology components. That will help you understand where the critical points of poor experience might be. And measuring at each step always helps make incremental developments as you proceed to the adoption plan.

For example, let’s consider an Executive Leadership team (user persona) in a North American company who meets virtually for three hours on a monthly basis to review the state of the business (use case). Some executives meet in person at a meeting room and some join as individuals from a remote location. The technology components would then include:

  • A meeting room system such as a Microsoft Surface Hub or similar and laptops.
  • Corporate network with Cisco SD-WAN Viptela at remote offices.
  • Collaboration platform such as Workplace by Facebook, Slack, Microsoft Teams or the like.
  • Access to corporate ERP systems for remote users through a tool like Windows Virtual Desktop or VMWare Workspace ONE.
  • Single sign-on through Azure Active Directory or similar.
  • Authentication made easier via tools like Microsoft Authenticator, removing the need to remember a password.

Technology friction is removed from this Executive Leadership team when these technologies are tied together, enabling them to do exactly what they are trying to do: discuss the state of the business collectively to make decisions moving forward.

Related Article: Why Design Today Hinges on Deleting Experiences and Reading Minds

Technology Is at Its Best When You Don't Notice It

If user experience is something important in your organization, consider what you can do to make the technology fade into the background. When user experience is strong, organizations receive multiple benefits with their employees including higher productivity, better retention and higher job satisfaction. Ultimately when employees are happier and more productive, this results in better customer satisfaction and stronger business results.