ESS…Build It and They Will Come…Not Necessarily

ESS Employee Self-Service

The best thing about computer technology is instant access to information any time, anywhere. Smart phones and tablet computers are a godsend in today’s fast moving world. Don’t agree? Just ask Siri or Skyvi (Google’s version of Siri). Now you can find a movie, a restaurant, a gas station, plumber, or anything else you need with just a few taps of the screen.

Pew Research estimates 58% of American adults have a smart phone, and 42% have a tablet computer. Clearly smart device owners understand the power at their fingertips and are realizing significant productivity gains, at least in the category of personal time management. So it stands to reason that mobile information access would provide similar benefits in the workplace, right? For instance, an HR self-service app that delivers virtually instant answers to all of a worker’s employment-related questions, right on their PC, phone or tablet? Well, this is true…if the content is comprehensive and the search tool is simple to use.

The problem with business applications, for both mobile and desktop users, is that they are frequently designed by tech folks who love cool gadgets and widgets and the latest trendy user interface designs. Not to mention executive stakeholders that assist in the design process regardless of how much experience they have designing (or selecting) new systems. The ultimate end user is often left out of the design phase. The fact is end users are typically not tech savvy and only care about ease of use and the ultimate benefit to themselves personally.

The other problem with employee self-service (ESS) systems is in the actual content, or lack of. If the level of content is weak or irrelevant, employees will be discouraged from using the tool. Combining a non-intuitive user interface with poor content promises a recipe for failure.

While I was working for a very large software firm, the company rolled out Siebel CRM system for sales force automation, which at the time was the only true enterprise class CRM solution on the market. By the way, this was in the pre-smart phone/tablet era. Siebel was deployed in a big bang approach and with virtually zero end-user feedback prior to launch. Siebel “sold” it to company executives as a powerful global sales management and sales analytics system. I suppose technically that was a fair pitch.

Prior to launch, I was selected to be part of the New York District rollout team, responsible for arranging and managing training and orientation sessions. We handed out free polo shirts, great food and drink, funny videos and more, to enliven the training events and generate excitement for this powerful new tool that promised to make our sales life easier and better organized.

Then came the first demonstration, with resulting comments like “are they kidding us?”. And we WERE techies! The product UI was a dog with fleas (no offense intended to dogs). It was clear that likely little or no feedback was solicited from the district offices (where all of the sales people work). This system was obviously designed for corporate reporting without regard for the end users. Employee sales and forecast data was entered into tables, not forms. There were many data entry tables and some tables had 20 or more required fields.

Now you may be thinking it should be no different than entering data in Excel tables. But these tables could only display maybe seven or eight columns and about ten records (rows) on the screen at once, due to the UI design. Users were left to constantly scroll right and left to navigate through individual records. Scrolling up or down to the next or previous set of records jumped the cursor back to the first field (column) even though your intention was to peruse through entries in another specific column (e.g., Contact email address column).

And by the way, clicking to another record triggered a save-record event which slowed down the system and prevented smooth and rapid scrolling. There are too many additional UI disasters to list here, but you get the picture. We hated it!

What happened when the company launched this unusable tool? It didn’t get used; at least not to the degree corporate expected. This multimillion dollar albatross was finally shelved after two years of pain in favor of a newer and more intuitive solution. Costly lesson learned.

The bottom line is, if your HR organization is building (or buying) a new system that will be available to the employee population, nominate (or assign) a select group of employees to be part of the design and configuration process. Remember, the customer is always right, and employees are HR’s most important customer.

If you build it wrong, they just may not come.







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