SOA, User Experience, Management, and more…

Thank you Phil Wainewright! Phil recently posted a blog on ZDNet titled: “It’s the user experience, stupid”. It’s nice to see the “long-neglected backwater of usability” getting some well deserved attention.

The Business Week article that Phil mentions was particularly interesting because it mentions “the natural advantage” that companies like SalesForce and NetSuite have because of their ability to track all activities going on in their solutions. So what can we learn from this? Is this about usability? In part, it is. While I’m sure these companies are performing usability tests, nothing beats actual field observation when it comes to usability. In the setting of a usability lab, if you’re fortunate enough to have one, you can glean a lot of excellent information. Unfortunately, it’s still a lab setting, and is largely dependent on your ability to get representative users. Unfortunately, we also can’t go out on observe each and every single user.

In the absence of field observation, the next best thing is to collect as much information we can from the solution itself. If you do this with a desktop solution, the spyware police will be all over you, regardless of how good your intentions were. If you host the solution, all bets are off.

So how does this tie into SOA? It ties into SOA for two reasons. First, SOA is about taking a more granular approach to the entry points into our solutions. By decomposing the problem down into independently maintained pieces, additional entry (integration) points have now been created. Every entry points represents a new location to collect metrics. Secondly, if you choose to use XML to represent the messages for your service interchanges, the opportunity exists to glean information from those messages (all the more reason to make sure you’ve encrypted all elements of the messages for which privacy must be maintained). Through analysis of this information, we can learn more about the service consumers and their usage patterns. Voila, there’s your field information. Need another example? Head over to IT Conversations and listen to Nathan Eagle’s presentation from Where 2.0 on what information he was able to glean simply by monitoring the location of cellphones, and the cellphones in proximity that were detected via Bluetooth.

Now there are obvious privacy concerns with the collection of any information. There are also clear benefits to the collection of metrics through management infrastructure. The key point of all of this, however, is that the better you are able to understand the needs of your customers, whether they are humans sitting in front of their web browser, or other systems issuing web services requests, the better solutions you’ll be able to provide. It’s not simply about collecting the information, but about collecting and using the information to make things better.

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