Better usability, not more training

I have a vendor of HR and Time/Attendance software that does not have a clue when it comes to software usability.  Whenever we point out how difficult their software is to use, they are fond of telling us that these are “user training issues.”

Classic example: we were attempting to roll-out the first generation of their online employment application.  Employment candidates could not figure out how to save their entry.  It wasn’t apparent that the small floppy disk icon in the upper left corner was the submit button.  Firstly, the submit button should not be in the upper left.  Secondly, many of our candidates have never seen a floppy disk.

When we pointed this out they gave us response that has been programmed into their autonomic system since orientation: “That is a training issue.” Hello, these are people spread all across the country.  How do we train them to fill out a 5-minute application?

The fact is, you don’t need to train people on software that is designed well.  Nobody gets trained on eBay, or Monster, or Digg.  They are intuitive.  These organizations spend time watching how users interact with their tools and modify them based on what they learn.  If you are a software developer and you have the same people working on the presentation layer of the application as the logic layer you need to get a clue.  If you have an extra clue send it to me and I will forward it to my vendor.

This is an area where I have spent more evaluation time when considering a new purchase.  There is a huge cost to all of this user training that is completely unnecessary.  I would encourage IT leaders to make this a more heavily weighted portion of their evaluations going forward.

7 thoughts on “Better usability, not more training

  1. Sounds like you’ve gotten bamboozled by an vendor that truly does not understand user interface design. I’d highly suggest looking towards someone with a UI design background to provide you with better software in the future. In fact, it might be valuable for you to have someone on your staff that knows UI and a bit about software programming so they can call your vendors bluffs – because they are absolutely full of it when they tell you its “user training issues”. It sounds more like they just want you’re money and don’t care about how well their product works.

  2. Daniel, thanks for the comment. I appreciate the advice. I would not characterize this vendor as uncaring and I don’t think bamboozled is the right term. We knew this was not a strength of the vendor. While I strongly believe the importance of UI (certainly more than most CIOs), it still isn’t the only consideration. Functionality and and price are major considerations as well. It is VERY rare to find a vendor that excels in all of these areas.

  3. This IS an interesting discussion. Even though I agree on your point when it comes to publicly available services I need to float a few thoughts.

    When the actual “thing to do” is fairly easy to grasp i.e. fill in an application to a school I want to attend or money I want they user interface can be self-explanatory and should not require training.

    However, sometimes when I discuss these training issues with my “customers” they say they it must not take more than one our to train people in system X or Y. Fair enough but sometimes an IT system actually implement a method that takes months if not years to learn. The method is fairly complicated because experience has shown that these certian steps needs to be there.

    I work in the military so when designing military command & control systems these requires an extensive knowledge about operational campaign planning. The IT system needs to reflect that if the fidelity required should be possible to maintain. I guess it is the same thing when operating advanced medical systems where medical training is necessary to understand what all the terms and processes means.

    My point is that ease of use for a John Doe-person is not necessary usability for a trained specialist. Which in return means that a UI with great usability for my logistics expert looks like Greek for John Doe.

  4. I completely agree that your EHR needs to be user friendly. There are some aspects of a full-fledged EHR, however that, of necessity, REQUIRE more advanced training: for example, report generation. if you are going to empower the user to create his/her own reports, it will mean introducing complexity and that complexity probably justifies specialized training.

  5. This is something that our company has made a top priority in developing our policy management software for the past decade. We pride ourselves in our user friendly interface. We pride ourselves in having less features than the competition. There are features out there that 5% of hospitals will need, but the rest will find useless. Including those extra features might win over those 5% of hospitals, but will only serve to confuse the majority of clients. And of course, like you say, it cuts down on user training and technical support costs thereafter. A win-win, really.

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