Usability and Legacy Systems … Yuck!
Just the thought of the words “legacy system” conjures images of big companies using old, antiquated hardware running DOS-like interfaces to perform simple tasks inefficiently. The problem for these companies is the technology changes so fast, by the time the systems they have planned, designed, and developed for launch, they become old, slow and outdated within 6 months. It was a large investment to implement and time consuming to integrate into business wide systems and procedures. Outdated can often mean poor usability, which allows room for the competition to beat you out. How on earth will they ever catch up without blowing their bottom line? Enter innovation.
So, we found a company who takes an innovative approach to theses big companies; many of which, if not all, are stuck on legacy systems. Companies like Circle K, UPS and Costco. At the center of it all…customer experience.
Jeremy: Can you tell me a little about what Fuel Quest does?
Todd: Sure, we offer downstream fuel supply chain management software. (laughs) I can tell from the look on your face that didn’t help much. Okay, our software manages fuel supply from the supply terminal to the gas station and from the gas station to the car.
Jeremy: So what is it you do exactly at Fuel Quest?
Todd: I handle business partner integration into our solutions, which might mean creating user interfaces or reports that help bridge our systems together in a way that is usable and optimized.
Jeremy: So how important is usability in what you do or for your industry, for that matter?
Todd: We are continuously dealing with older legacy systems designed at a time when usability wasn’t what it is today. The companies we deal with have used these systems for so long that they are ingrained into the heads of the employees that use them. I’ve noticed resistance or hesitation to integrate with Fuel Quest from some of these employees; not because it isn’t useful or a better approach, but because they are afraid of having to learn a new system all over again.
Jeremy: How do you overcome that?
Todd: You have to be a problem solver for these people. These ARE the users. It is their experience that I am trying to improve. Usually, all I need to do is find out what their problems are and show them how our solution will make their lives easier. Although, sometimes the feedback I get from them isn’t solvable by our current solution and a new custom one is necessary.
Jeremy: At the end of the day, that kind of feedback is extremely valuable in crafting better and better solutions.
Todd: Right. It’s complexity versus simplicity. That’s at the heart of the designs I come up with.
Jeremy: Could you give some examples?
Todd: Sure. I try to make the system work flows reflect the day-to-day operations of the users. I identify what elements are most commonly used in their day-to-day operations and I design the solutions to make those elements accessible with the fewest number of clicks. Using AJAX to give visual cues help decrease confusion, error messaging on validation and permissions based UI’s help me make sure that, what each user sees, is highly relevant to them and their work flow.
Jeremy: What kind of response or feedback have you been receiving with these designs?
Todd: We recently had our Fuel Quest Users Convention, which we call Grail. We invited out a bunch of our clients and others in the industry to see what we were working on. I had the pleasure of presenting at our technology showcase and seeing first hand the response. People were getting gitty over some of this stuff. It was amazing to work so hard on something that seemed like such a no-brainer and get that kind of validation.
Jeremy: So what’s in your toolbox when you are banging out designs and user experience concepts?
Todd: I have found some really great open source tools that get the job done. I use Gliffy to quickly mock up layout. Faststonecapture.org is a great tool for screen captures that you can quickly edit and make notes on. Notepad Plus is my go to editor. HTML Kit is a nice editor I use from time to time. Obviously, Excel for data and report management. Altova XML Spy is a must for me, we use XML heavily. The only other thing I use is Gimp which is an image editor.
Jeremy: Lastly, what do you think the future holds for usability and UX?
Todd: I think there will be much less physical interaction with these systems to do day-to-day processes.
Jeremy: In what ways?
Todd: I think that the speech to text solutions our there are reaching a level of sophistication that make them viable for manipulating UI’s. Permissions could be set based off of recognizing the voice of the user. I read somewhere of a company that is going to start selling a device that allows you to manipulate systems with thought alone. Emotiv was the name. Supposed to sell for $300 dollar range. That puts it in the ballpark for small businesses to afford and innovate with.
Jeremy: Maybe Fuel Quest will be one of those innovators.
Todd: No one would be more excited about it than me!