XIII.4 July + August 2006
Page: 16
Digital Citation

Corporate UX—-

Tobias Herrman

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Downloading ringtones, games, or wallpapers from mobile infotainment portals, using off-board navigation systems while strolling around in a European metropolis, ordering parking or event tickets via SMS, paying with your mobile phone everywhere you like, satisfying your need for security with your 3G-enabled wireless home observation system, browsing the Web with adequate speed in a HSDPA mobile network—these are just a few scenarios that illustrate the mobile industries' striving for data services.

Across Western Europe, average revenue per user (ARPU) from nonvoice services increased to 5 Euro in 2005, which is approximately16 percent of the total ARPU. It is still clearly dominated by person-to-person messaging like SMS, MMS, or email. But wireless entertainment propositions including live TV, music, or video, and also business applications, are picking up rapidly: one positive trend in quite challenging times for most European operators facing negative effects from regulation (e.g., roaming, termination charges, or promotion for MVNOs). High market saturation or penetration rates are up to or over 100 percent.

Within this given market context and being aware of the increasing relevance of mobile data products, improving the overall user experience is both critically important and difficult to achieve. When designing applications today, we still face limitations such as small display screens, complex text-input mechanisms, or sequential representation of information—we always have to remember that a mobile phone is far less forgiving of "bad" interaction design than is a laptop. So, usability is the mobile community's next big challenge! Does anyone disagree? The user experience might furthermore lag behind, as long as the mobile industry—vendors, operators, and third parties alike—does not strongly focus on consumer needs, skills, and consumer-driven innovation processes, but instead even more on technological feasibility. Keep in mind, the complete user experience of mobile data products strongly influences the customer's brand perception in terms of innovation and quality—in both directions. Or maybe in financial figures? Taking into consideration a potential global market worth $43 billion by 2010 (Informa 2005), we can imagine how significant the complete user experience can be.

We are all aware that generating a positive user experience is not (only) about designing highly usable interfaces. Important points to consider include understanding and modeling the context of use, identifying users' needs, assuring a high level of technical performance, reducing and varying complexity within applications, generating value and—let's not forget—offering an adequate and transparent price plan to customers. Depending on context, target groups or mobile devices, other dimensions such as aesthetics, convenience, emotional appeal, lifestyle issues, cultural components, trust, or playfulness might also strongly influence the usage, or nonusage, of data products. This is the playground on which corporate user experience (or usability) teams model and realize HCI structures and processes—together with marketing, IT, and other corporate units. Within this context, usability engineering comes to life (well, or not) and classical product development is about to get a face-lift. Here, it is our challenge to create the (methodical) framework for consumers, technology, and marketing to meet and learn from each other—and to moderate these meetings. The absence of user- and need-centering in the product life cycle will not only endanger a company's return on investment in innovation, but will also lead to frustrated one-time customers. Let's face it: It's still the customer who determines a product's success.

No doubt, implementing corporate user experience structures, processes, and expertise requires strong commitment to the value of user experience work—both from an operational and a strategic perspective. However, commitment and basic awareness for the relevance of user experience work is by far not enough. Many financial, organizational and process-related aspects need to be discussed and agreed on—not only in the start-up phase, but throughout the first year(s) after "launching the idea." As we all know, there is no "silver bullet" in setting up and implementing usability or user experience teams. And by talking to a number of colleagues in different companies and industries, you get as many different approaches—most of them extremely valuable for one's work, either in terms of validation or broadening of perspective.

Within the first two years of corporate user experience work at mobilkom austria, I found many different aspects supporting a successful and sustainable implementation. One of these aspects was proving the business impact of activities to management level. In retrospect, it was by far the strongest driver for a sustainable integration and long-term partnership with product management—and I'm convinced this also applies to many other companies. Finally, top management always wants to know whether or not their investment paid off, most suitably in financial figures. So, how did we achieve it? As in many other cases, a tailored return on investment (ROI) model was the key to success.

Our ROI model contained, among other things, the monitoring of user experience-specific key performance indicators (KPI), internal performance measurements, standardized product evaluations from a customer's perspective, and, of course, exemplary case studies with high customer and revenue impacts. Further, we included some major user experience KPIs in the Corporate Balanced Scorecard, and even in variable bonus systems for employees. As you might imagine, all these activities strongly supported organizational sustainability, but even more built up a common mindset on user experience and its relevance.

When it came to organizational issues, resources and existing processes were a restricting factor. There was neither a chance nor need for a 50-person corporate user experience team that might have been responsible for defining user interface standards, branding, or navigation paradigms. After generating basic user experience awareness by realizing projects with high revenue impact, we decided to install a matrix-organized team including a five-person core expert team and a so-called User Experience Forum with more than 15 "satellites" from each corporate division. This matrix idea combined with a competence center approach proved to be most efficient in terms of resources, involvement, flexibility, and information flow. Moreover, our understanding of mobile user experience, "user centering," and usability engineering led to an organizational implementation outside IT and marketing—but not without being a relevant and mandatory player within the product's life cycle. Today, we are consultants, analysts, and designers, but independent in our perspectives, and only bound to our customers. Our offer spans the complete usability engineering portfolio, but beyond that we created an online customer panel including more than 4,000 (non)customers that "revolutionized" our everyday work in terms of speed, efficiency, flexibility—and maybe most important, time2market(ing). Within minutes we are able to access our customer's opinions, creative potentials, and contexts.

As I mentioned earlier, this is just one approach, one subjective collection of ideas and experiences on the topic of corporate user experience work. Nevertheless, I personally do see potential, maybe even need for any kind of experience exchange, bringing together mobile HCI practitioners and managers from vendors, operators, and third parties discussing different approaches, implementations, industry trends, methodical tools, or maybe different perspectives on user-centered processes.

Today, we are consultants, analysts, and designers, but independent in our perspectives, and only bound to our customers.

Several days ago we tested new design templates. One of the participants from our online customer panel said in a complimentary email, "It's a brilliant idea to let your customers do your work!" It seems we're headed in the right direction.

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Tobias Herrman
mobilkom austria


Tobias Herrmann is head of Team User Experience within mobilkom austria, Austria's largest telecom and mobile service-providing company. He implemented a matrix-organized team that today covers all fields of user experience activities, e.g., "classical" usability/user experience consultancy, usability/workflow engineering, and maintenance of mobilkom austria's online customer panel. In 2006, one major focus is the training and integration process of user experience managers within the subsidiary companies Mobiltel (Bulgaria), Vipnet (Croatia), and Si.mobil (Slovenia).

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