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Alliances

The introduction of these process standards presents a number of opportunities to the Human Factors and Human Computer Interaction community by creating the potential for new alliances.

ALLIANCES WITH SOFTWARE PROCUREMENT

 Process models offer the potential to change the custom software business model by 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 compliance with ISO 13407 in the contract, with the use of ISO TR 18529 for assessment purposes, frustrates this strategy in a way that methodologies, guidelines, handbooks, or expert consultants cannot.  Post award-of-contract, the use of process assessment and process improvement can complement mandated deliverables as management tools and financial incentives.

ALLIANCES WITH SOFTWARE MANAGEMENT AND DESIGN

 Software and System Engineering have made a similar 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 of selected processes.  The availability of a process model for human-centred design eases its inclusion in the scope of continuous improvement.  Similar benefits can be obtained from a process model compatible 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 promoted in the 1980's.  ISO 13407 fits into this new 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) get used, there will be further benefits to be obtained.

There is considerable academic and corporate interest in understanding how to make structured Process Improvement work at a business level and in the fields of software and system engineering. Research into user-centred process has, so far, been led from industry rather than the Human Sciences.  The human sciences can make contributions at both the cognitive and organisational levels (Clegg, 1996): 

  • the usability of Process Improvement in general: the HCI 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 context of application of process models: the limits to existing process models need to be understood, for example how variables in users, tasks, technology affect the ease of achievement of process outcomes. 

Jokela (2000) has started to investigate the basis for conducting assessment and Process Improvement, with consideration given to non-process perspectives. 

ALLIANCES WITH 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) has a business excellence model that 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 ISO TR 18529, offering the opportunity for usability 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.  ISO TR 18529 offers a way to assess the likelihood of achieving usability in a manner that is compatible with EFQM in the context of e-commerce.

 ALLIANCES WITH GOVERNMENT AND CITIZENSHIP

 The increasing role of evaluation against performance measures in the public sector (Chelimsky & Shadish, 1997) offers both an opportunity and a challenge to usability professionals.  For example, the UK Government now sets targets beyond regularity and propriety in the investment of public monies and requires demonstration of effectiveness of public IT systems from the citizen’s point of view.  The ability to measure the extent to which user needs are being addressed has the potential to deliver a powerful metric at programme level, with overtones of citizenship and accessibility for all, particularly in the domain of e-government.

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