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What Are the Benefits of Integrated UCD?

The major benefit of carrying out our integrated UCD is that it works (IBM, 2000). Companies can use it to develop products efficiently and with a high level of customer satisfaction.

The marketplace practices natural selection. People will naturally select the easiest way to do something — to find what they want, buy what they want, or do what they want. Complexity is the biggest inhibitor of product success. If customers find a product confusing or frustrating the first time they try to use it, they may not try it a second time. For this reason, usability is just as critical to business success as system availability, scalability, reliability, and functionality. Usability is vital to a company's success, its competitive edge, and perhaps even its survival. This is especially the case in the new world of Web-based or e-business applications. As companies make the transition to e-business, they have a unique opportunity to involve and impress those most important to the success of the business: their staff, their investors, and their clients. Well-designed applications are much more than a boon to corporate efficiency — they're a major asset to a company's reputation.

Ease of use may be invisible, but its absence certainly isn't invisible. Confusing, intimidating products make for confused, intimidated, and dissatis-fied customers. And an unhappy customer becomes somebody else's customer. In an e-business world, the competition is not across the street or across a continent — it is a mouse-click away. Your e-business applications represent your company and your brand to users. In some cases, they're the only thing people have to identify you by. In an environment like this, you can't afford not to make ease of use a priority.

If usable design sounds like an expensive proposition, consider the alternative. The e-business marketplace is fast and fickle. Perception becomes reality. Product attributes become brand attributes. And poor product usability becomes a serious liability. Popular misperceptions at this stage of the game will cost you dearly. Damage can be done overnight — and it is not easily or quickly undone. For this reason, it's crucial that ease of use be integral to the product development process, and not an afterthought. Commercial success will go to those companies that make the commitment and investment necessary to ensure that usability is a hallmark of their business and e-business brand.

Before delving into the details of integrated UCD, we must point out that UCD is dramatically improving the ease of use of products, including software, hardware, and services. For example, the IBM workstation database product, DB2 Universal Database, used UCD starting with the 5.0 release. To enter new markets, expand market share, and increase profitability, IBM used UCD to raise the ease of use of the total customer experience with the product. The results of IBM's own studies, business results, and trade press reviews substantiate the improvement made in ease of use. For example, PC Week used the words "a vastly easier client setup procedure, integrated replication and a fresh new interface that's right on target." InfoWorld pointed out that the "Latest DB2 exceeds competition . . . administrative functions are well-integrated into the easy-to-use Control Center interface." Information Week wrote that "Installation, on both the server and client, is mind-numbingly easy Universal Database is breathtaking for its enormous leap into ease of use."

UCD is also yielding significant benefits in the area of hardware. For example, the studies, business results, and trade press reviews for the IBM notebook computers ThinkPad 770 and 600 point to improvements made in ease of use. For example, Gartner Report wrote, "If winning in the notebook game is the result of attention to details, the 770 has it in spades, especially when it comes to usability." PC Magazine claimed, "The ThinkPad's [600] usability suffers no peer." PC Computing similarly echoed, "usability is where this machine truly shines." Business Week wrote, "IBM wins my vote for a huge display and excellent ergonomics The keyboard is the best I have ever seen in a laptop." PC Week similarly pointed out, "The Trackpoint is the most useful pointing device we've seen to date on a notebook." The business case derived from these types of results further drives the broad implementation of UCD at IBM.

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