Category: User Experience


Five 2014 Public Sector Predictions: Looking Back to Look Forward

As health-based resolutions ramp up across Canada to counter last month’s holiday socializing, the Canadian government jumps into 2014 with a slate of promising initiatives designed to trim the fat, so to speak, from the public purse. A review of how some of those initiatives initially fared in 2013 says a lot about what could or could not work in the government’s favour in the coming year. read more

Content Strategies to Prevent Future Government ROT

The push to remove Redundant, Outdated and Trivial (ROT) content on government websites has allowed departments and agencies to reconsider what content is needed by different audiences, and how those audiences want that content delivered. We’ve observed productive discussions across the National Capital Region over the past year on the purpose of the web channel and how it can both help users do the tasks they come to website to do and departments promote their new initiatives and programs.

ROT exercises however are often framed as a project and not a way of doing business. This creates the risk of falling back into an old pattern, which is publishing content that is of little value to users and/or doesn’t successfully increase awareness or engagement with government priorities. We’ve seen one department undergo a comprehensive content “pruning” two years ago, only to have their content holdings balloon by 246%, a mere 24 months later.

A major contributor to the persistence of ROT is the lack of anything that helps us determine what should and shouldn’t be published. This is a content strategy. Content strategies define:

  • What goes on the web and why
  • Which content aligns with which tasks
  • How web content should be presented and structured
  • How to balance user needs with organizational priorities
  • Who makes decisions on the web
  • How content will be optimized for findability and promotion
  • How web performance is measured

An effective content strategy requires involvement by a multi-disciplinary team comprised of communications and information management specialists, senior and program management and IT. In a Government of Canada context, the strategy should align with these success-centric drivers:

  • Program Alignment Architectures (PAA)
  • Strategic business plans
  • Enterprise business architectures
  • Content standards
  • User research (identifying tasks and demographic data)
  • Communications plans for web campaigns

This admittedly is not a small effort, but it is one that can be incrementally developed as time and resources allow. A work plan that incorporates one or two elements can be managed on a quarterly basis. Using this phased approach, the elements that support smart decision making for the online presence can build over time and improve outcomes that are valued by the organization.

April 2013: Why does this matter now?

We know the Government of Canada is consolidating into a single government website but we don’t know much more than that at this time. This leaves departments wondering if they should do anything at all. A content strategy approach is one of the best things you can do to prepare yourself for the future in the absence of knowing exactly how things will play out. On the one hand, if there are delays to the consolidation exercise, you have put some foundational pieces in place to improve the user experience for your audiences. On the other hand, if things move quickly, you have a precise understanding of what you and yours users need out of the web.

Denise Eisner is a Senior Consultant in the Government Service Excellence practice.

Thank You Ottawa Web Usability Community for a Great Event!

At the end of September, Systemscope and Neo-Insight co-hosted usability expert and Optimal Workshop co-founder Trent Mankelow from New Zealand.  Trent, Neo-Insight’s Lisa Fast and Systemscope’s Denise Eisner shared their expert insights about web usability as it pertains to the Government of Canada’s (GC) Usability Standard.  A more in-depth summary of usability and key takeaways are coming in Denise’s next blog post.

It was exciting to have such a great turnout at our first-ever Innovations from the Systemscope Lounge event.  The passion and dedication all the attendees have for usability is inspiring and motivating.  We were happy to receive such an enthusiastic and knowledgeable group of people in the Systemscope Lounge and appreciate that they took time out of their busy schedules to attend.

The entire Systemscope team would also like to extend a huge thank you to our speaker Trent Mankelow for taking the time out of his North American speaking schedule to come to Ottawa and to our co-host NeoInsight for providing examples of their expertise to our audience.

We look forward to holding more events in the Systemscope Lounge and seeing you there!

If you are interested in attending future Systemscope Lounge talks about the Government of Canada web presence, please contact Denise Eisner (eisner@systemscope.com) to be included on the mailing list. We appreciate all inquiries, but preference is given to Government of Canada professionals.

Special Series: Taming the Intranet Beast, Part Five

Part Five: the Intranet Dream Team

In the final instalment of a five-part series on Taming the Intranet Beast, senior consultant Denise Eisner shows how the dream team can be realized, even in times of austerity.

Usability guru Jakob Nielsen’s list of best Intranets of 2012 suggests that proper resourcing for an organization’s internal web site needs to approach a ratio of one resource for every 1,000 employees. That figure takes into account some allowances for temporary outside help for particular functions, but on the whole, the ratio seems right.

But can smaller government departments today manage Intranets with one, two, or three individuals? The answer is a qualified yes, depending whether:

  • The individual/team member has the requisite communications, marketing, analytics and business skills to multi-task effectively;
  • The web content lifecycle has been defined and informs what happens to web content from inception to removal;
  • Governance is in place to make strategic decisions;
  • Tactical decisions are made within the Intranet team;
  • The design, structure, functionality and performance measurement components of site management are managed centrally; and
  • Content contributors are relied upon as local editors providing story ideas and web content, not as web experts.

How could these activities be realized when budgets are tight, and likely to get tighter? Consider the future state of a departmental Intranet if nothing changes:

  • Employees waste 90 cents per minute looking for content on a poorly structure site;
  • New content costing upwards of $800-1000 per page (after writing, approvals and publishing) keeps getting adding to the site with no strategy or lifecycle guidance governing its existence; and
  • There is a risk of limited understanding among employees of the department’s top priorities since they are not effectively messaged using the channels that employees want and need.

Given these direct and indirect costs to the organization, maintaining a status quo for the Intranet will cost more, and the performance records should bear that out. A well-conceived resourcing solution plus efforts to shore up governance and strategy offers senior management a more cost-efficient and sustainable approach to managing the Intranet channel.

View the rest of this series:

Special Series: Taming the Intranet Beast, Part 4

Part Four: Get Serious about Intranet Search

In the fourth of a five-part series on Taming the Intranet Beast, senior consultant Denise Eisner asks if search is so important, why are there no resources allocated to it?

Ask a government communications executive what they see as the problem with their Intranet site and invariably the answer is “our search engine doesn’t work.” Colourful variants on that response aside, it’s clear that management understands that search is an important function that users need to find content easily.

Then we ask the web teams and their IT colleagues how many resources they have devoted to search. Answer? None.

That disconnect between acknowledgement of the single most important function on a website and the reality of no resourcing to support it defies logic. So why does this happen?

First of all, search is partly technical. It involves an IT tool. IT largely sees their role with respect to search as infrastructure provider, with little to no maintenance required. Meantime, Communications is not comfortable with new technology that is outside their area of expertise.

Second, search requires understanding of how information should be classified so it can be retrieved. This would be the rightful domain of IM, but sadly not too many departments see it that way. The result is that the metadata is poor or nonexistent and therefore the search results have little meaning.

Third and lastly, search needs constant testing to make sure it is performing as expected. I have yet to see a usability or public opinion research plan that incorporates testing for Intranet search.

So management sees the problem, but no one appears to have the solution? Not quite. Some departments have taken up the cause with vengeance, and rather than wait for the solution to be bestowed upon them, have gone out and procured a decent tool (Google Search Appliance for example), configured it to meet their needs, tested it and then monitored it for performance. Voila: search now works with some degree of predictability. For one department that meant a quasi-full-time resource embedded on the web team, who brought the requisite skills to make it happen. It also meant the full support of management.

Search on an Intranet site can be improved, as long as it’s accepted that resources are required to manage it.

In the fifth and final part of this series, we nominate the contenders for the Intranet dream team.

Make Your Boss Love You!

Using Agile Prototyping to Increase Client Satisfaction and Internal Efficiencies

By Stephen Karam

What if I told you that you could design, create, test, and document a winning business solution – all while fully engaging partners and senior executives – in 3-6 months, leading to significant client uptake and risk reduction? Before you call me crazy (or presumably worse), read on…

It’s intrigued me how so many Government of Canada (GC) investments labelled with the ever-sexy moniker of “transformation” never really realize their originally intended benefits, and usually cost a fortune: the type of fortune that attracts unwanted attention from the OAG and media. This does not make the boss happy.

Here is a typical example: Department “X” creates a business case for an IT-enabled business initiative that sings to senior management. They receive several million dollars in TBS funding. They build the business solution. Corporate and program areas in the department find it difficult to use said business solution and disengage. Department “X” then spends an exorbitant amount of taxpayer dollars maintaining an IT solution with eroding business value and little goodwill amongst its target users and stakeholders, both internal and external.

This scenario sheds light on a series of systemic flaws in the GC when it comes to creating successful business and service transformation outcomes. One of those flaws is that many departmental IT organizations under the CIO still apply the waterfall methodology to the development life cycle. They move serially from requirements gathering (if done at all), to analysis, to design, to build, to test, to implement. Throw in a procurement cycle or two in there and voila! A two- to three-year timeframe has lapsed before there’s any output at all! Executives have little tolerance for this approach, since there are no “announcables” until the end of the waterfall.

We need to remember that success in the GC transformation space is not only about a strong business case, executive leadership, capable resources, solid governance, and a bulletproof solution; it’s about how you play the game. As Coach Vince Lombardi once said, “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the ONLY thing!”

So here’s a game plan that has worked over the past couple of years for two projects: Industry Canada’s BizPaL 2.0 and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s AgPal. Both are similar content discovery systems that allow users to find relevant information and services from across jurisdictional boundaries via the Internet. One is aimed at helping Canadian businesses discover permits and licences; the other is for Canadian farmers and agri-industries to access available programs and services. Both have employed the same agile prototyping approach with the client’s understanding that these projects are about solving the data/content/process challenge, and not the technology challenge.

The prototyping allowed for early engagement of partners (i.e. provinces, federal programs) to “kick the tires” on the requirements before one line of code was written or a single dollar was spent on technology. The method was pretty straightforward:

  • Scope the prototype (who are the partners/contributors, scope of content, ideal timeframe to produce “release 1”, preliminary architecture);
  • With partners, define client scenarios to be addressed by the prototype;
  • Identify and gather partner content within scope, aggregate and categorize;
  • Develop user interface, based on client scenarios;
  • Iterate prototype behaviour with partners;
  • Usability test the prototype;
  • Document business and functional requirements, as a direct reflection of the prototype;
  • Validate requirements with partners; and
  • Engage implementation team.

While a simplification of the actual process, it’s easy to see the key steps that can be systematically employed to every implementation, whether it is a client-facing web service offering, or a critical internal business system. This approach significantly reduces risk of the final implementation since the stakeholders (partners and clients) have actually had a chance to use the solution in practice, rather than react to wireframes or written scenarios.

Hey, if you were building a house and you were given the chance to experience it before the foundation is even poured … wouldn’t you take it?

Hear more about agile development during Stephen’s presentation on Top-Down Implementation in a Bottoms-Up World at GTEC 2011, October 18, 1 p.m., at the Ottawa Convention Centre.

Stephen V. Karam can be found on LinkedIn, and reached at karam@systemscope.com.

User Centred vs. Audience Based

In a recent presentation on Information Architecture at Health Canada, I was asked the question “should we be targeting our users or our audience”? This question was followed by a bit of a debate and confusion over the matter, roping in other concepts like user centred design and audience based navigation to further complicate things.

Following the meeting I circulated a short document to bring clarity to the issue and thought it would be worthwhile to share some of the concepts as I’m sure Health Canada isn’t the only organization users and audience have some delta between them.

Here is how I like to define the difference between the two:

The difference between users and audience isn’t rocket science, but it is an important distinction to make when making design decisions. Following that thread, I want to clarify two design approaches that are related to (and confused with) user and audience: User Centred Design and Audience Based Navigation.

User Centered: A website that is designed to address the needs and behaviours of the different users of your site. This includes both the users who are coming to your website today and the audience that you would like to have visiting your website (See image above). Effective user centered web design balances the needs of different users by following all of the following guiding principles:

All users want content that is:

  • Well written and easy to understand
  • Easy to find
  • Clear and to the point
  • Helps them achieve their purpose for visiting your site

Different user types may want:

  • Different amounts of detail and technical information
  • Access to explanatory context vs. Access to raw data

No user wants content that is:

  • Generic to the point of having no value
  • Detailed information/data without any context for application

Audience Based Navigation: A navigation structure for a website that divides content by audience type (i.e. Seniors, Immigrants, Scientists, health care professionals, etc.). Ironically, Audience based navigation often stands in opposition to user centered design. We have known for a while now that for the most part, audience based navigation is not the most effective means of structuring a website to help users achieve their desired tasks online. Users decide what content they want and do not want to be told who they are.