IBM Joins User Experience Race

 
 
By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2007-05-22
 
 
 
ORLANDO, Fla.—As the race to deliver the right user experience in products and services heats up, with the likes of Adobe, Microsoft and even Sun Microsystems backing entries, dont count IBM out.

IBM is equally focused on delivering an attractive user experience for its products and has been working on it for some time, said Mike Rhodin, general manager of IBMs Lotus business unit.

"Its not just the user interface, but the overall experience of using the system," Rhodin said. IBM wants users to identify with and enjoy their interaction with the companys software "from the minute they open the box," he said.

Indeed, Rhodin said the emphasis on user experience has evolved at Lotus to the point where he has commissioned two groups to focus on it: one in Raleigh, N.C., and another in Cambridge, Mass.

"And they design all the stuff from the outside in," Rhodin said. "Theyre putting an emphasis on improving the consumability of our products."

The Nielsen Norman Group, a Fremont, Calif., company that focuses on user experience and helping companies design human-centered products, defines user experience as encompassing "all aspects of the end users interaction with the company, its services and its products. The first requirement for an exemplary user experience is to meet the exact needs of the customer, without fuss or bother. Next comes simplicity and elegance that produce products that are a joy to own, a joy to use. True user experience goes far beyond giving customers what they say they want, or providing checklist features."

So while IBM may not be delivering a new platform for building a cross-browser, cross-platform environment for building RIAs (rich Internet applications) like Adobe, Microsoft and Sun, the company is ensuring that its products deliver a quality user experience, Rhodin said.

IBM lays out the importance of and its plans for service-oriented architecture. Click here to read more.

"Were reacting to market realities," he said. "Its a need." Rhodin noted that with the changing work force, the user experience of a product can mean the difference between a company having to invest heavily in training or not.

Indeed in IBM Workplaces Portlet Palette, "you could select an icon and drag it onto your page, and we have to create a similar set of tooling that makes it easy to build mashups," Rhodin said, noting that IBM has recently announced technology for doing this, along with QEDwiki technology coming out of IBMs emerging technologies team.

However, the primary interest of IBM when it comes to user experiences is "were trying to make our software much more consumable," Rhodin said. "In the [IBM] Software Group we call this the year of consumability. We want to make it easier for our customers to consume software and get value out of it much faster."

The social concepts of new Web 2.0 software also have value in the context of an enterprise, he said.

"IBM has had a Facebook internally—inside the company—for years, we call it BluePages," Rhodin said. "Were expanding on that in [Lotus] Connections."

Rhodins role in IBMs SOA (service-oriented architecture) strategy is to deliver the interaction services for the strategy, he said.

Meanwhile, IBM is working on delivering Lotus Notes 8.0. The company plans to drop a second public beta of the technology later this week, Rhodin said. The second beta is based on user feedback from the first beta, which was released in March. "Were on tap to ship in midsummer," Rhodin said of Notes 8.0.

"I switched over [to Notes 8] a few months ago, and I cant go back because my productivity is so much improved," he said.

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