The value of appearing well connected
If I told you, I was well connected, what would I actually mean? It might mean that I live in area with a fantastically fast broadband speed. It might refer to the number of LinkedIn connections I have. It could even mean I know some useful people in high places – for example, the powerful and shadowy figures of the Outsource editorial team.
Despite the numerous meanings, there is generally a positive connotation regarding the strength and numbers of connections. Being connected is good. We all need to be connected. Perhaps in this networked world we’ve become obsessed with the term, but I think it can be a useful concept as a starting point in evaluating IT solutions, similar to the way “satisfaction” is good for looking at the user experience. The more connected your solution is, the better.
In thinking about whether my solution is “connected”, some obvious things come to mind, which are pretty fundamental to its success. First of all the solution needs to be “on”. It needs to have the ninety-nine-point-whatever-it-is percent uptime that is agreed in your SLA.
Secondly, in terms of navigation, screens, menus, tools and content need to connect to each other through hyperlinks in a way that is logical.
Thirdly there is going to be a connection to basic support processes and structures. Can I connect to the server or to somebody to help me out in this problem, so I don’t feel like I’m being left on my own to sort things out?
Then there are some aspects of connection which I think are perhaps slightly less obvious. Some of these are about being connected, and some are more to do with appearing connected. I think these aspects fall into three categories: organisational connections, people connections and connections to the technology itself. All three overlap, but I’ll try and describe what I mean by each of them.
Outsourcing involves users from more than one organisation and at some level – even if it is only to centralised functions – has a collaborative element. Does the technology facilitate that collaborative element at all and does the content reflect and remind users of this? It might be as simple as having two company logos elegantly positioned somewhere on a web page.
Secondly as a service provider, your IT offering should reflect the connections you have within your own organisation. For example if you are a global company or network, you will probably want to ensure that you appear to be a well-connected efficient operation perfectly at ease with your far-flung structure. Some really simple content can remind users of this. For example, a list of global offices or places where you have representatives or some links to web pages translated into Spanish, French and Chinese might just do the trick. Similarly you do not want to appear to be operationally siloed by having wildly differing departmental content or a set of effectively stand-alone applications which should really talk to each other but don’t.
Can you connect to the people you need to connect to? It’s so obvious but having a simple directory to navigate to all the key people users need to contact, with telephone numbers and email addresses is really important. Then if there’s things like photos, pen portraits, instant messaging, discussion forums, fully fledged social media…well you can go on as much as you like. But if users can connect to people in your organisation as well as their own then that’s generally a good thing.
Connection to technology
I’m not sure that “connection to technology” is the best way to really describe this, but this is about the perception of the ability of users to shape the future direction of the IT solution. It’s about transparent feedback mechanisms which are demonstrably acted upon, clear schedules of future changes and open discussions where users and interact with development teams.
I recently saw one web platform which is used by a lot of small businesses where a change had just been rolled out. Users has absolutely panned the change on their open discussion forums – and fair play to the provider, they promptly responded by reversing some of the changes but defending it robustly where they needed to. They came over as very authoritative and professional and connected to their user community.
So is your IT solution well-connected? Does it bring organisations and people together? Does it bring the solution closer to its user community? If the answer is yes, then you have a good base to build a great user experience. And a great user experience is at the centre of a successful IT solution.