CUA of the Month – November, 2006

Steve Thornton
"Sometimes usability was perceived as being at odds with project budgets and time-to-market targets. But we showed that usability really works. With a rigorous user-centered methodology, you can ensure successful, on-time delivery – and avoid the rework that's necessary later if you don't talk to users in the first place."
 
Steve Thornton
Contractor
Management Systems Designers

Gaining insight into all aspects of business through usability

by Jesse Berkowitz

Question: In a large company, how many people have a holistic understanding of the business from a day-to-day, "ground floor" perspective?

Answer: Not many.

But thanks to usability, Steve Thornton is the rare individual who did have this broad vantage point in his former position at Nextel.

"Through usability, you get exposed to so many different aspects of business," he explains, having served as the nextel.com Content Manager and then as the Corporate Communications Senior Manager for the Nextel intranet. Since many different departments published on the Web site and/or intranet, Steve and his colleagues made sure content was presented and organized in a user-friendly way.

"I worked with nearly all areas of the company: HR, sales, marketing, IT, legal, billing, etc. During the usability process, you quickly become familiar with the departments you deal with. Thus, I was one of the few people who got an inside look at how each aspect of the business functioned."

Originally brought on at Nextel for his project management skills, Steve saw the value of adding usability knowledge to his skill set and ultimately earned his CUA credential. "Sometimes people claim to do usability but don't really know their stuff," he remarks, "so having the HFI certification is quite valuable."

Steve contributed to Nextel's highly profitable Web sales channel by ensuring the consistency and accuracy of information across the Web site. He also managed over 100 on-time product and promotion launches on the Web site and was a key player in 2 successful redesigns. Despite these impressive accomplishments, getting support to apply usability techniques wasn't always easy.

"Sometimes usability was perceived as being at odds with project budgets and time-to-market targets," says Steve. "But we showed that usability really works. With a rigorous user-centered methodology, you can ensure successful, on-time delivery – and avoid the rework that's necessary later if you don't talk to users in the first place. The thing I enjoy most is working directly with customer interfaces and being able to see results immediately. It's amazing how quickly you can make an impact with relatively simple usability enhancements."

Presently, Steve is on contract from Management Systems Designers Inc. with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as an Information Technology Architect. Among other responsibilities, he supervises the development and maintenance of enterprisearchitecture.nih.gov, a unique technical Web site to communicate the NIH Enterprise Architecture and hasten its adoption. According to the site, enterprise architecture "is a comprehensive framework used to manage and align an organization's IT assets, people, operations, and projects with its operational characteristics."

Enterprise architecture is an inherently complex topic at NIH, since so many different stakeholders and organizations are involved, each with their own specific structure, terminology, and objectives. NIH realized that to benefit from an enterprise architecture, people must be able to find information about it easily in the first place. Thus, the NIH Office of the Chief IT Architect asked for the users' help in developing a new website, and the site itself was built according to user-centered methodologies. Since launching in October '05 it has been lauded by stakeholders at NIH, other federal agencies, local and state governments, and medical institutions from around the world. Furthermore, the knowledge gained through user research and analysis has been invaluable to other aspects of the program, not just the Web site itself.

As Steve proudly proclaims: "This site will transform information technology at NIH for years to come."

Steve is a contributing author of the pending book titled Enterprise Systems Architecture in Practice Handbook, a seminal work due out in early 2007. He wrote a chapter which highlights the NIH Enterprise Architecture program as a case study and emphasizes the importance of usability in delivering a successful enterprise architecture.

CUA of the Month

Each month we highlight the successes and achievements of a different member of our CUA community. If you are a Certified Usability Analyst and would like to be considered for CUA of the Month recognition, please send a brief professional bio to hfi@humanfactors.com

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Reviewed: 18 Mar 2014

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Reviewed: 18 Mar 2014

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