Showing posts with label Intuitive. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Intuitive. Show all posts

May 20, 2014

Winning Respect Of The People

Please see my new article here in Public CIO Magazine on how we can learn from the technology industry to improve our nation's government. 

"We can solve technological problems beyond our forefathers' wildest dreams, but we're challenged to break political gridlock. compromise, make difficult decisions, and forge a balanced, reasoned path forward."

Hope you enjoy!

Andy

(Source Photo: the talented Michelle Blumenthal)
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August 28, 2013

Wheelchair Complexity

So my approach to enterprise architecture, product design, and customer service, as many of you know, is plan and simple, User-centric!

Innovating, building things, servicing customers, and communicating needs to be done in a way that is useful and usable--not overly complex and ridiculous. 

The other day, I saw a good example of a product that was not very user-centric. 

It was a type of wheelchair, pictured here in blue. 

And as you can see it is taking 2 men and a lady quite a bit of effort to manipulate this chair. 

This little girl standing off to the side is sort of watching amusingly and in amazement.

What is ironic is that the wheelchair is supposed to be made for helping disabled people. 

Yet, here the wheelchair can't even be simply opened/closed without a handful of healthy people pulling and pushing on the various bars, levers, and other pieces. 

If only Apple could build a wheelchair--it would be simple and intuitive and only take one finger to do everything, including play iTunes in the background. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)


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August 10, 2013

How Apple Is Losing Its Fans

Without a lift, Apple is already (and unfortunately) on the way down.

IDC reports that the recent quarter global smartphone shipments show Android with an almost 80% market share compared to Apple's flimsy 13%.

I've been a diehard Apple fan for years (and I still love them, but...)

Years ago, I converted all my Windows computers and even my old Android phones.

Apple was innovative, sleek, and intuitive to use.

But since Steve Jobs passed, the company has lost its mojo.

Siri was a bust and what else have they done since.

Google is leading the way with Glass for wearable technology.

Apple is disappointing its consumers, and their stock plummet from over $700 to the upper $300s (now in the mid $400's) shows investor sentiment.

Out comes the Samsung Galaxy S4 and I am salivating--the differences from the iPhone 5 make them "almost" not comparable.

Thought I'd wait for Chanukah, but the opportunity came early and so I am now a proud owner.

A couple of days earlier, a young women on the Metro was using the Galaxy and I asked how she liked it--she said she loved it, mentioned the big screen and all the free apps, and then went on to say that her mom also just switched over from the iPhone and loves the Galaxy too.

What is it about the Galaxy?

The larger 5" screen on the Galaxy versus 4"on the iPhone 5 is the first thing you notice--and yes, when it comes to doing email, reading news articles, or watching video, size does matter!

Also, the Galaxy has Corning Gorilla glass and a higher 2.85 resolution and 35.28% higher pixel density--so it is strong and sharp and images really come out looking like a beautiful work of art.

Also with air gesture, you can just wave your hand to navigate pages and not get fingerprints and smudges all over the screen.

The camera is another huge difference: the Galaxy is 13 megapixels compared to only 8 for the iPhone and if you like taking photos that don't look like they came from a smartphone, this is a better way to do it.

In terms of speed, the Galaxy again outperforms the iPhone, it has 2 gigabyte of RAM versus only 1 for the iPhone and its CPU is 2.46 as fast. I was able to transfer my entire iTunes music library in just a couple of minutes.

Finally, battery power is key and the Galaxy has 1.81x what the iPhone has--which basically makes it not necessary to get a heavy and costly Mophie external battery pack for it.

While there are many features I like better on Galaxy s4, the one thing I'd recommend Samsung improve on is the body, which is a cheaper plastic compared to the iPhones aluminum, but once you have a solid case on it, it doesn't really matter for the end user experience.

Overall, Galaxy has out-done the iPhone, and I think the venerable and cash rich Apple, without some major new technology leaps and advances in design is under very real threat.

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)
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June 9, 2013

Turnkey Cyberwar

Interesting article by Noah Shachtman in Wired about how the Pentagon is gearing up for cyberwar.

It's called Plan X and it's being pursued by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The idea is for cyber warfare to be conducted like traditional kinetic warfare--where "munitions made of 1s and 0s [are] to be as a simple to launch as ones made of metal and explosives."

Cyberspace is considered a domain of warfare similar to land, sea, air, and space, and it is necessary to be able to craft offensive capabilities where "a military operator can design and deploy a cyber effect, know what it's going to accomplish...and take the appropriate level of action."

We can't fly by the seat of our pants in cyberspace any longer; we've got to have turnkey solutions ready to launch in order to defend our people and interests. 

To accomplish this, we need:

1) Surveillance: A good map of cyberspace detailing enemy cyber outposts and threats akin to the geographical maps we have identifying physical targets and dangerous movements.

2) Weapons: Reliable cyber weapons ready to take on and take out enemy networks similar to kinetic weapons ready to destroy their military hardware and infrastructure.

3) Launch protocols: The rules of engagement for attack and counterattack and the ability to intuitively and securely unleash those even faster then the turnkey capabilities with which we can respond with traditional military might. 

Whether, the cyber weapon looks like Angry Birds or some other point (at the target) and swipe (to launch at them) interface is almost beside the point--what is key is that we are ready to fight like hell in cyberspace, win uncontested, and keep the peace again. ;-)

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Great Beyond)
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April 6, 2013

Go Simple!

Two interesting recent articles discuss the importance of building in simplicity to product design to make things more useful to people.

Contrary to popular belief, simple is not easy. Mat Mohan in Wired Magazine (Feb. 2013) says that "simplicity is about subtraction," and "subtraction is the hardest math in product design."

Two of the best recent examples of simplicity through subtraction is what Apple was able to achieve with the iPod, iPhone, iPad, and iTunes, and what Google did through its "sparse search page."

Unfortunately, too many companies think that "quality is associated with more," instead of less, and so they pack on options, menus, and buttons until their darn devices are virtually useless. 

Similarly, an article in the Wall Street Journal (29 March 2013) advocates that "simplicity is the solution," and rails against the delays, frustration, and confusion caused by complexity. 

How many gadgets can't we use, how many instructions can't we follow, and how many forms can't we decipher--because of complexity?

The WSJ gives examples of 800,000 apps in the Apple store, 240+ choices on the menu for the Cheesecake Factory (I'd like to try each and every one), and 135 mascaras, 437 lotions, and 1,992 fragrances at the Sephora website.

With all this complexity, it's no wonder then that so many people suffer from migraines and other ailments these days. 

I remember my father telling me that you should never give consumers too many choices, because people just won't know what to choose.  Instead, if you simply give them a few good choices, then you'll make the sale.

Unfortunately, too many technologists and engineers develop ridiculously complex products, and too many lawyers, legislators, and regulators insist on and prepare long and complex documents that people aren't able to read and cannot readily understand. 

For example, in 2010, the tax code was almost 72,000 pages long, the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) is about 2,700 pages, and the typical credit card contract now runs to 20,000 words.  

Even the brightest among us, and those with a lot of time on their hands, would be challenged to keep up with this. 

While rewriting and tax code is a welcome topic of discussion these days, it befuddles the mind why most of the time, we simply add on new laws, rules, regulations, amendments, and exclusions, rather than just fix it--plain and simple. 

But that's sort of the point, it's easier for organizations to just throw more stuff out there and put the onus on the end-users to figure it out--so what is it then that we pay these people for? 

The plain language movement has gotten traction in recent years to try and improve communications and make things simpler and easier to understand. 

Using Apple as an example again (yes, when it comes to design--they are that good), it is amazing how their products do not even come with operating instructions--unlike the big confusing manuals in minuscule print and numerous languages that used to accompany most electronic products.  And that's the point with Apple--you don't need instructions--the products are so simple and intuitive--just the way they are supposed to be, thank you Apple!

The journal offers three ways to make products simpler: 

- Empathy--have a genuine feel for other people's needs and expectations.

- Distill--reduce products to their essence, getting rid of the unneeded bells and whistles. 

- Clarify--make things easier to understand and use.

These are really the foundations for User-Centric Enterprise Architecture, which seeks to create useful and usable planning products and governance services--the point is to provide a simple and clear roadmap for the organization, not a Rorschach test for guessing the plan, model, and picture du-jour. 

Keeping it simple is hard work--because you just can't throw crap out there and expect people to make sense of it--but rather you have to roll up your sleeves and provide something that actually makes sense, is easy to use, and makes people's lives better and not a living product-design hell. ;-)

(Source Photo: Dannielle Blumenthal)
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October 12, 2012

Cloud $ Confusion

It seems like never before has a technology platform brought so much confusion as the Cloud.


No, I am not talking about the definition of cloud (which dogged many for quite some time), but the cost-savings or the elusiveness of them related to cloud computing.

On one hand, we have the Federal Cloud Computing Strategy, which estimated that 25% of the Federal IT Budget of $80 billion could move to the cloud and NextGov (Sept 2012) reported that the Federal CIO told a senate panel in May 2011 that with Cloud, the government would save a minimum of $5 billion annually.

Next we have bombastic estimates of cost savings from the likes of the MeriTalk Cloud Computing Exchange that estimates about $5.5 billion in savings so far annually (7% of the Federal IT budget) and that this could grow to $12 billion (or 15% of the IT budget) within 3 years, as quoted in an article in Forbes (April 2012) or as much as $16.6 billion annually as quoted in the NextGov article--more than triple the estimated savings that even OMB put out.

On the other hand, we have a raft of recent articles questioning the ability to get to these savings, federal managers and the private sector's belief in them, and even the ability to accurately calculate and report on them.

- Federal Computer Week (1 Feb 2012)--"Federal managers doubt cloud computing's cost-savings claims" and that "most respondents were also not sold on the promises of cloud computing as a long-term money saver."

  - Federal Times (8 October 2012)--"Is the cloud overhyped? predicted savings hard to verify" and a table included show projected cloud-saving goals of only about $16 million per year across 9 Federal agencies.

  - CIO Magazine (15 March 2012)--"Despite Predictions to the Contrary, Exchange Holds Off Gmail in D.C." cites how with a pilot of 300 users, they found Gmail didn't even pass the "as good or better" test.

- ComputerWorld (7 September 2012)--"GM to hire 10,000 IT pros as it 'insources' work" so majority of work is done by GM employees and enables the business.

Aside from the cost-savings and mission satisfaction with cloud services, there is still the issue of security, where according to the article in Forbes from this year, still "A majority of IT managers, 85%, say they are worried about the security implications of moving to their operations to the cloud," with most applications being moved being things like collaboration and conferencing tools, email, and administrative applications--this is not primarily the high value mission-driven systems of the organization.

Evidently, there continues to be a huge disconnect being the hype and the reality of cloud computing.


One thing is for sure--it's time to stop making up cost-saving numbers to score points inside one's agency or outside.

One way to promote more accurate reporting is to require documentation substantiating the cost-savings by showing the before and after costs, and oh yeah including the migration costs too and all the planning that goes into it. 

Another more drastic way is to take the claimed savings back to the Treasury and the taxpayer.

Only with accurate reporting and transparency can we make good business decisions about what the real cost-benefits are of moving to the cloud and therefore, what actually should be moved there. 

While there is an intuitiveness that we will reduce costs and achieve efficiencies by using shared services, leveraging service providers with core IT expertise, and by paying for only what we use, we still need to know the accurate numbers and risks to gauge the true net benefits of cloud. 

It's either know what you are actually getting or just go with what sounds good and try to pull out a cookie--how would you proceed? 

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

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November 6, 2010

Podcast and Slideshare by Andy Blumenthal on Mobility Solutions

Assorted smartphones

Click here for the audio of my speech at the Adobe Government Assembly on Wednesday, November 3, 2010 in Washington, DC. (Subscribe to all my podcasts on iTunes here.)
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November 3, 2010

5 Lessons For Implementing Mobility Solutions

[Pictured from Left Kevin Brownstein, McAfee; Andy Blumenthal, ATF; John Landwehr, Adobe; Jack Holt, DoD]

Today, I participated on behalf of my agency at the Adobe Government Assembly: Engage America on a panel for mobility solutions.

I shared the lessons learned from our experience and pilot of mobile devices, including:

1) Be prepared to give the end users as many apps as possible—they want it all just like on their desktops.

2) In mobile devices, size and resolution matters. Although people like miniaturized devices, they want the display of the information and graphics to be clear and visible.

3) Users did not like using a stylus for navigation.

4) Users in the field don’t have time or patience to decipher complicated instruction guides—it’s got to be intuitive!

5) While security is critical, usability is key and it’s a balancing act.


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April 22, 2008

“Consumerized” IT and Enterprise Architecture

“Ergonomics (or human factors) is the application of scientific information concerning objects, systems and environment for human use…Ergonomics is commonly thought of as how companies design tasks and work areas to maximize the efficiency and quality of their employees’ work. However, ergonomics comes into everything which involves people. Work systems, sports and leisure, health and safety should all embody ergonomics principles if well designed. The goal of ergonomics and human factors is to make the interaction of humans with machines as smooth as possible, enhancing performance, reducing error, and increasing user satisfaction through comfort and aesthetics. It is the applied science of equipment design intended to maximize productivity by reducing operator fatigue and discomfort. The field is also called biotechnology, human engineering, and human factors engineering.”

“In the 19th century, Frederick Winslow Taylor pioneered the "Scientific Management" method, which proposed a way to find the optimum method for carrying out a given task… The dawn of the Information Age has resulted in the new ergonomics field of human-computer interaction (HCI). Likewise, the growing demand for and competition among consumer goods and electronics has resulted in more companies including human factors in product design. (Wikipedia)

Despite all the talk of ergonomics, we’ve all had the experience of getting a new IT gadget or using a new IT application that necessitated that we go through reams of instructions, user-guides, manuals (some 3-4 inches thick), and online tutorials, and still often we end up with having to call in to some IT support center (often in India these days) for walking through the “technical difficulties”.

Not a very user-centric architecture.

Well finally companies are waking up and factoring in (and designing in) ergonomics and a more user-centric approach.

The Wall Street Journal, 22 April 2008, reports “Business Software’s Easy Feeling: Programs are Made Simpler to Learn, Navigate.”

Many vendors have ‘consumerized’ their corporate software and online services making them easier to learn and navigate by borrowing heavily from sites such as Facebook or Amazon.com. They have also tried to make their products more intuitive by shying from extraneous features—a lesson learned from simple consumer products such as Apple Inc.’s iPod.”

Other vendors are developing products using “user experience teams” in order to build products that are user-friendly and require minimal to “no formal training to use.”

David Whorton, one of the backers of SuccessFactors, an online software company, stated: “We’ve moved into an environment where no one will tolerate manuals or training.”

Similarly, Donna Van Gundy, the human resources director for Belkin, a maker of electronic equipment said: “Employees just don’t want to be bothered with training courses.”

The bar has been raised and consumers expect a an intuitive, user-friendly experience and a simple user interface.

Go User-centric!!


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