Opportunities for usability design

The introduction of the standards ISO 13407 and ISO TR 18529 presents a number of opportunities to the usability community by creating the potential for new alliances. It is intended that the HSL model will considerably increase these opportunities for the UK Defence community, now and on completion of its conversion to an International Standard.

The opportunities are discussed under the following headings:

Opportunities for software procurement

Process models offer the potential to change the custom software business model, forming an alliance with the customer. There is a sector of the software supply industry that depends on poor usability for economic survival. The strategy is to bid at below cost for fixed-price competitively-tendered supply against a contracted set of requirements, to deliver a system that meets the requirements (and so obtain payment) but which is unusable, thus leading to large quantities of profitable post-design support.

The inclusion of HFI PRA (or for office IT, ISO 13407) in the contract, including its use for assessment purposes, frustrates this strategy in a way that methodologies, guidelines, handbooks, or expert consultants cannot. Post contract award, the use of process assessment and process improvement can complement mandated deliverables as management tools and financial incentives.

Opportunities for software management and design

Software and System Engineering have made a move from method to process, e.g. from SSADM and Information Engineering to the development of standards such as ISO 15504, the Software Engineering Institute's Capability Maturity Model (CMM), ISO 12207 and ISO 15288. The development of a process model for user-centred design that is compatible with engineering models and quality standards enables usability professionals to form new alliances (with quality managers, process architects and Software Process Improvement initiatives), and to take advantage of accepted initiatives for process improvement. For example, ISO 9001:2000 includes a requirement for Continuous Improvement (CI) of selected processes.

The availability of a process model for the Human-System Lifecycle eases its inclusion in the scope of Continuous Improvement. Similar benefits can be obtained from its compatibility with CMM and ISO 15504. It is also important to note that globalisation and international collaboration are forcing convergence on single standards, in contrast to the profusion of methodology guides and standards in the 1980's. The HSL model (and ISO 13407) fit into this class of standards. As the new version of ISO 12207 (incorporating a usability process based on ISO TR 18529) and ISO 15288 (incorporating Human Factors issues) emerge, there will be further benefits to be obtained.

There is a large academic and corporate interest in understanding how to make structured Process Improvement work in the fields of software and system engineering and at a business level. These initiatives should take account of human sciences contributions at both the cognitive and organisational levels (Clegg, 1996): The HF community has much to contribute to understanding Process Improvement for processes beyond those that deliver usability The social and human science aspects of organisational change have yet to be investigated fully in the context of process maturity the limits to existing process models need to be understood, e.g. how variables in users, tasks, technology affect the relation between process and outcome. Jokela (2000) has started to investigate the basis for conducting assessment and Process Improvement, with consideration given to non-process perspectives.

Opportunities for business and quality metrics

An alliance can be made between usability engineering and business-level metrics. For example, in Europe the European Foundation for Quality Management (EFQM, 1999) excellence model is becoming widely adopted for organisational benchmarking (equivalent models are used in the US and Japan). The approach and content of the EFQM are compatible with the HSL model, offering the opportunity for operability process metrics to be included at corporate level. The World Wide Web has changed the importance of usability for many organisations. As Nielsen (1999) has pointed out "In product design and software design, customers pay first and experience usability later. On the web, users experience usability first and pay later." Business therefore becomes critically dependent on usability. As a result, the component of the EFQM related to customer results becomes largely concerned with user-centred design. The HSL model (and ISO TR 18529) offer a way to assess the likelihood of achieving usability in a manner that is compatible with EFQM in the context of e-commerce.

Opportunities for government and citizenship

The increasing role of evaluation in the public sector (Chelimsky & Shadish, 1997) offers both an opportunity and a challenge to usability professionals. The demand from government has shifted from regularity and propriety in investment of public monies to the demonstration of effectiveness of the operational system. The ability to measure the extent to which user needs are being addressed has the potential to deliver a powerful metric at programme level. HSL assessments (whether external or self-assessments) can be used as valuable Performance Indicators at programme or project level.

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