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How discovering users' goals helps improve enterprise app design

Understanding why and how employees use applications for work helps foster successful app design, but learning users' goals is a big undertaking.

When it comes to app design in the consumerization age, business savvy informs the way developers look at users in their own organization: To get people to use your software, you have to understand what their goals are.

Barrie Hadfield Barrie Hadfield

Workshare is a 12-year-old company that provides secure enterprise collaboration applications across desktops, mobile devices and the Web. Internally, the company operates under a culture of security and an "only-use-it-if-it-works" mentality. Workers use their own software to create and share content and to enforce cloud file-sharing and synchronization policies. At the same time, higher-ups don't look down their noses at workers who use software other than Workshare's.

Rather, when chief technology officer Barrie Hadfield sees employees using different tools, it's an opportunity to improve the company's products through goal-oriented design and make workers' jobs easier.

"In the last couple of years, what we've really focused on is building useful software that people love," Hadfield said. Workshare has a dedicated app design team of six designers and a researcher with a background in psychology to make its products ones that workers want to use. Hadfield discussed how Workshare supports the consumerization movement.

Why do you have a psychologist on your app design team?

Barrie Hadfield: She has two degrees -- one psychology degree and one design degree -- so that puts her in a very unique position. She's interested in the way the world thinks and what you can see and touch around you, and the aesthetics and function of those things.

We use a process called 'goal-orientated design' to break our user base into what we call personas, which are reflections of the types of people who are likely to be our users. Then we understand what their goals are through extensive, in-depth interviews with people, and that's really informative. You learn some amazing things.

As an example, one of the attributes of one of our personas is that she travels home from work and she takes the bus. She has to wait for 20 minutes at the bus stop before the bus comes, and that's the time that she uses to peruse comments. You learn little things like that. It seems really obvious, but we really care about that.

We're our own worst -- or best -- critics of our software.

Barrie Hadfield,
chief technology officer, Workshare

Does Workshare support consumerization, and do employees use their personal mobile devices or the cloud for work?

Hadfield: We absolutely do. We're incredibly interested in how we can apply consumerization ideas [to our software] so someone can engage with it. But they really have to enjoy it, otherwise they'll stop using it. Our internal policies are the same: We use our own software, but we use other software as well. If someone prefers using some sort of unregulated tool, we're interested in that. We want to know, 'Why do you prefer that tool, and what is it that we're not doing to entice you to use our products for work?' We don't mandate anything, but we pay a lot of attention to what employees are using and we learn from that.

How would you describe your approach to consumerization within the company?

Hadfield: We don't ignore it at all, and we don't discourage it. We don't encourage -- but we certainly tolerate -- the use of software that we compete with. If it's better than what we do and people are getting more benefit from it, we learn from that. I wouldn't say we encourage users to get out there and try everything all the time, but our employees should only use our own software if it's good enough. We're our own worst -- or best -- critics of our software.

So overall you'd say that consumerization is a positive movement?

Hadfield: Oh, it's extremely positive. It's the end of the world where IT could enforce what people could do. It's the end of the world of shelfware -- software that's bought and not deployed. Now, you have to truly engage somebody. You have to deliver value to them or they will not use your system and they'll bypass it because they have so many other choices. But here's the hardest part: There's a fickleness of the relationship that you have with your users. If they don't like your product, they won't tell you why. They've moved on to the next thing already, and that's really hard. That's why we really treasure the feedback we get from our own employees.

How does the IT department support users' devices?

Hadfield: We don't really have an IT group, so users are expected to be technical and support themselves. But I think because we spend every day dealing with confidential information that belongs to our clients, we have a culture of security inside the organization. We all know what we're doing; we're not accidental.

Do you have a BYOD/mobile device policy, or do you trust users to handle data correctly?

Hadfield: We have very strict policies, and if we felt that anyone was being careless with data, they wouldn't work at this company. We do have very strict policies for how we expect people to behave. We don't enforce them electronically, so if someone synchronized confidential information into a consumer-based device that we knew was insecure, that would be the end of the world. We wouldn't tolerate having that person in the business because people who work for us should know better.

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