An IT leader's 'aha' moment in user adoption

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Oh how nice it must be to enter the workforce today, when guys like Dan Antion are in charge of IT. Antion, vice president of information services at American Nuclear Insurers, is a true believer in driving user adoption of new technologies by ensuring that the technologies actually help people in their jobs. I talked with him last week about an implementation of collaboration tools, and the conversation turned to his recent epiphany about putting the user's considerations front and center when developing new programs and systems.

One of Antion's first "aha" moments in the area of user adoption struck him at an iPhone development conference about a year ago, he told me. He was just starting a project and was taking a beginner class in iPhone app development.

"The guy had covered all the material on the agenda and he had a half an hour left, so he started talking about the user experience," Antion recalled. "He asked how many of us were planning to build a specific app, and about 60 percent of the hands in the room went up.  Then he asked how many were going to have a settings page, and about two-thirds of those hands went back up. He said, 'You don't get it.'"

When you think of the apps you really like, they aren't likely to have settings pages, are they? The beauty of the mobile app is that it is intuitive and requires little to no configuring.  "When developers and designers start to look at things from the user perspective, it makes a big difference, and user adoption follows," Antion said.

Let's face it. The consumerization of IT might as well be called the Appleization of IT. Tomes have been written on the secrets to Apple's success: the Zen-like effortlessness, the attention to the experience, the focus on design, the creation of what people like rather than what they need. As these notions seep into enterprise IT, underlying it all, in Antion's view, is simplicity.

The iPhone application he recently built replaces a laminated card that employees used to carry around in their wallets. The card contained--in very small print--email addresses, the URL for web access to email, employee phone number extensions, numbers to call if you lost your American Express card and so on, and it was a critical resource, particularly for the employees who travel frequently. With the employees' perspective in mind, Antion realized that the app needed to do more than replicate this same information digitally. To really assist users in their jobs, it had to not only display a colleague's extension but dial it as well. It also had to provide easy options for those colleagues who prefer texting. The development effort was incremental, which Antion points to as one example of "the user experience epiphany process."

"It was the process of continuously looking at the application as it evolved and making sure it would be what users expect to find on this platform," he said. "Simplicity rules."

It takes longer to develop programs with the user's perspective in mind, Antion said, but only marginally longer, and the impact on user adoption is huge. - Caron