09 Aug 19

It’s a simple enough concept but so often overlooked in the world of digital transformation. In all areas of our life, product design is focused on making life as easy as possible for the user. Smartphones, cars, appliances, houses — you name it, they are designed around the users’ needs and then improved and refined around the actual use of the product as it evolves.

Let’s illustrate via a simple, practical example… The kitchen fridge. The original remit was to be able to keep food cool and preserve its life. The original incarnation did just that. Over time, function has been added to that core offering, based around useful need from consumers. There are different types of shelves and compartments in the fridge designed to better hold the relevant contents (e.g. wine bottles, salad). Then we added a freezer that sits as part of the same appliance (think American fridge/freezer). We then decided cold water would be great, and ice… And how about smart technology to tell you when food/drink contents of the fridge were running out or needed replenishing. The core function is the same, but the actual offering around that has been refined and improved over time.

This same approach is vital when building or procuring web applications to facilitate digital transformation. So often procurement teams or senior management decide the best tool for the digitisation or improvement of a workflow. They will do this based on price, perceived functionality and promised outcomes (from a vendor). But who consulted the end-users? When were they asked for an opinion or their input around tools that would make their workflows more efficient? Top-down KPIs are an important factor in determining the success of a digitised process, but engagement with the end-users is just as important. After all these users are the people who have been carrying out the task or role before the decision to introduce digital tools to increase efficiency. Their insight will help ensure the solution is embraced and fully utilised.

Consultancy before anything else

So, how, and what is the best way of engaging with the end-user? In reality, it is not a complex process. Take the case of an admissions team at a niche university. Until we engaged with them, they’d been using spreadsheets, printed records and manual exporting of data from UCAS as a means to manage the admissions process each year. Our goal was to fully digitise and automate this admissions process as far as was possible. From a management point of view, there was a need to see a central, real-time record of admissions and be able to report on the specifics around who is applying for courses on offer. At end-user level, there was a desire to ensure the whole admissions team had up to date views on each candidate’s application and be able to progress it as needed. With a largely part-time team and a lot of crossover in tasks, this could massively increase efficiency and avoid any duplication of work.

As a first step, we spent time with the admissions team, sitting with them in their office, understanding how they currently did things. This was a vital step and incredibly interesting. No one knows the trials, tribulations, constraints, quick-wins and much more, better than the team performing the tasks each day.

With info from this initial consultation with the real users, we started to map out where and how a web application could take over from the spreadsheets and printouts. Storing the right information is the obvious and easy step, making it easy to enter the information is, again, not rocket science. Wrapping this up in a nice, usable, easy-to-understand interface was a key part. Starting with prototypes, we mapped out key user journeys and engaged with the admissions team to help us refine these, allowing them to picture how they’d use the application. The final key aspect we looked at was how we could automate key steps or ensure minimal effort was required to move a candidate along the admissions workflow. Through integration with UCAS, we pulled all application data into the tool we built, we also then triggered key tasks based on status updates (interview invites, offer letter merge and send).

The outcome was a web-based application that the admissions team embraced fully. They’d been engaged with its inception and although still apprehensive about the move away from their normal routine, they understood the gains that could be made. This first incarnation focused on taking the steps they currently performed, but wrapping it up within a browser-based application — simplifying each of their normal steps.

Use and refine

We were on hand during the transition period, applying small tweaks and improvements to ease the process. Anything web-based should evolve and particularly applications or tools aimed at creating efficiency. Through feedback and consultation with both the end-users and senior management, improvements will always be identified to any tool that has been implemented. Ensuring there is budget for additional phases means that further efficiency can be gained, which in real terms means a saving in resource (and money) over time. In the case of the admissions team we worked with, we are now into a 3rd year of iterative improvements to their application. Each year we spend time with all users, tackle their frustrations and desires for the system and work on improvements, always keep the key task in mind.

In short, engagement with end-users is a vital part of any digital transformation project. Ensure you know how users currently manage a workflow, gather their insight and use this to shape a solution that will be embraced by them. From there, understand how they are using the new solution and work with them to add further refinement.

Can we help you develop around need?

At Bullet Web Development, we develop digital tools around a known need and we ensure the end-user is the key stakeholder in any project we take on.

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