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IBMer's blog

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This blog is where I posted when I was focused on my employer, IBM. I was on various forms of the corporate web User Experience Design team from 2001 to 2012.

I am not planning on adding any more entries to this blog after leaving IBM.

This is a personal blog, of course. "The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions."

Leaving IBM

Starting in April, I will not be an employee of IBM. Why? They laid me off. I am not upset about it.

It was a great 10 years. I got to work with great people on really challenging and interesting business problems. I contributed to several important, transformative efforts within the company. I made a difference for users across a variety of IBM digital touchpoints.

What's next for me? I do not know yet. If you are going to the IA Summit this week, then I want to talk with you about opportunities to collaborate. I am excited that I will get to do something new and different, and can build upon what I experienced working for IBM for a decade.

What did I learn, teach, discover, accomplish, survive the past 10 years? Four items to start with as I reflect back a bit.

1. You can indeed have effective, distributed, worldwide teams (e.g., dozens of people, all working remotely, in many time zones) but it is not easy. It takes discipline, planning, good communication skills, and proper use of a wide variety of tools.

User experience methods are useful for planning the "team experience" and information architecture skills come in handy for organizing the work spaces.

2. Agile UX & development processes, in general, are a better way to work in large corporations, since it makes it easier to do continuous, incremental improvements.

In a large, complex, systems-driven infrastructure, the "trick" is in the analysis phase (aka "writing stories"), where large problems are broken down into smaller work items. Avoid the roadblock parts of the infrastructure - things that are so broken, they need to be thrown away.

Certain parts of the user experience will always stink until the company commits to starting over from scratch. Make progress where you can and constantly remind management what is FUBAR.

3. One of the trends I see coming is more and more integration of UI design systems. Within IBM, our latest web redesign included a huge effort to combine our intranet and internet UIs. They do not look exactly the same, but our definitions/implementations of breadcrumbs, local navigation, icons, page grids and other UI elements are the same now.

The business case includes both UX benefits and costs savings. For example, a widget developed for the intranet can easily be used on internet sites.

The integration is happening at a larger scale within the company now. With platforms evolving quickly (smart phones, tablets), companies will need to spend even more time integrating UI design systems to make all of their digital touchpoints fit together.

My personal interest is on the information architecture side: how to organize the elements in the design systems (in a multi-faceted classification scheme, of course) so they can be integrated.

4. A technique I used for dealing with stakeholders on a daily basis was acting like a "requirements therapist". Groups would come to me with the "solution" in mind (e.g., "add a link to the home page", "we need smaller tabs to fit them all on our pages") and I would ask them lots of questions about how they got to this as the answer to their problems.

What is the actual business problem you are trying to solve? What are the user needs, goals, tasks? What other options did you consider (and what are the pros/cons of each)? What impact would this have on other business units? What would be the ideal user experience (even if we know that is not possible)? What is the bare minimum we can do to move us in the right direction? And so on.

Sometimes the net result was no actual change to the user experience, but the client changed through the therapy.

Four of my thoughts after 10 years with IBM, without getting into the weeds. And boy, are there a lot of IBM business and technical details I have gotten into over the past 10 years, things only an "innie" gets to experience. I guess that is something else that is important: how to stay at a high level for a while, and when to get into the details to actually get the work done. Being able to switch your brain quickly from the "clouds" to the "weeds" - and back - is crucial.

10 great years: now to start the next great 10 years!

Frontiers in Service, Columbus, Ohio, June 30 - July 3

I learned about the Frontiers in Service conference back in 2007 and I have been keeping an eye on it ever since. It is where a lot of IBMers present their Service science, management and engineering research. Sylvia Long-Tolbert also had great things to say about it back when she was a professor in the business college at the University of Toledo. After touring the world, the conference is making its midwest USA stop next month, so I am trying to figure out a way to get there. Not my core areas of interest, but I am sure I would learn something.

A few things that I notice that make me want to go:

  • Lots of IBMers, presenting their latest research and talking about the state of the field of service science. Jim Spohrer, Wendy Murphy, Paul Maglio, Jeanette Blomberg and more.
  • Some "service design" presentations that I should be able to apply. Not as focused as Emergence was in 2007 but I should get something out of it as a practitioner. I like that they have "best practitioner paper awards" - so this is not just research for researchers.
  • I see some presentations by Dwayne Gremler from BGSU. I have not met him yet.

The price is a big minus: hard to justify that for something that is not in my core interest area. Given the cost, family things (the summer is already packed) and work (being a weekend conferences helps there), not sure I will make it. If I miss it, hopefully there will be Twitter stream to follow. And I can follow up with my IBM colleagues separately to get reports from the conference.

Blog topics: 

Service Science: Design for Scaling and Transformation

IBM colleague Jim Spohrer mentions a new book by Cheng Hsu of RPI - Service Science: Design for Scaling and Transformation - that seems to be knitting together "Web science" and "Service science" - and perhaps other things (something that I have been struggling with).

Jim quotes part of the book above. I also found the preface (PDF) listed by Professor Hsu. I found these bits interesting:

  • "My original intent was only to write a different kind of a scientific book about offering an interdisciplinary explanation to why service matters..."
  • "What does 'a connected world' mean? Does service require a different kind of design science? What will be the next waves of the Web? How to make enterprise information systems adequate for service scaling? How to unite cyberspace with physical space? Is it feasible to massively connect independent information resources everywhere? Is a service-led revolution reality or gimmick?"
  • "The situation is not unlike what Management Science faced in 1950's and Computer Science did in 1960's. A counter example is Information Technology of 1990's, which is a would-be field that failed to materialize scientifically."
  • "If a new service science is for real, then it has to be interdisciplinary and integrative, as opposed to merely being multi-disciplinary."
  • "I believe a new population orientation paradigm has arisen in scientific research for the digitally connected world...Such a paradigm studies directly the population knowledge (laws and probabilities) rather than the inference of them through samples (laboratory prototypes and statistics)."
  • "I managed to establish a design theme for the new theory...the book also embarked on analyses of new business designs emerged on the Web since the original e-commerce/e-business, and projected the theory onto their next waves."

Jim is thanked for his contributions to the book, which is not surprising, since he is "Mr. Service Science" at IBM.

This is one of those "research" books, so it is expensive, and to be honest, I am sure I won't understand all of the theory in it (there is a reason I am a practitioner and not a researcher), but it still looks worth buying to me. I am not sure Hsu's "design" is the same as what I consider "design," but I will get the book and find out.

Blog topics: 

Design and Adoption of Social Collaboration Software within Businesses

The special interest group that I helped propose for CHI 2009 was accepted. I am working with 3 IBM colleagues (Jason Blackwell, David Schwartz, Sandra Kogan) and John Sheridan.

Design & Adoption of Social Collaboration Software within Businesses
Abstract: Social networking and collaboration sites are having a large impact on people’s personal lives. These same applications, similar functions and related experiences are being adopted within businesses. This special interest group will address the issues around social collaboration software in the business setting. What is the value for the business and its users? How do you measure success? What strategic design and user experience issues are key for successful adoption? What roles do user experience professionals play in this type of social system?

Since one of the premises of the session is that the popularity of sites like Facebook are affecting how organizations are thinking about collaboration software, we thought it would be appropriate/ironic to use Facebook itself to promote the SIG, get feedback from possible attendees, and to document what happened at the SIG. Check these out if you are interested:

  • Facebook event for information about the SIG
  • Facebook group for discussions before and after the SIG, in case a group of people interested in the topic evolves

If you are going to be at CHI 2009 in Boston, I hope you consider coming to our SIG. If you are not familiar with SIGs, do not expect to just sit and listen to presentations. There will be lively debates, break-out groups so you can explore topics you are interested in, and networking. Get people interested in a topic in the same room for an hour and a half and see what happens.

If you are interested in the topic but are not attending CHI, you can still join the group and participate in the discussion.

World Smart & Usable Planet Day?

Are "Smart Planet" and "World Usability Day" a match made in heaven or is it a silly idea to link them together?

Smart Planet is the buzz within IBM. More than just our next marketing ploy around "innovation" and unlike the declaration that the web was for real, this is something bigger. I am no expert at it (and I was not one of the bloggers given early warning), but I did know it was coming since is going to be an important part of whatever it turns out to be.

Here are a few of the things that I have been watching/reading (the things I can share with you, at least):

There are many aspects that interest for me. A few things Sam mentioned during the Q&A of his talk hit home the most. One was mentioning Service science efforts within IBM. Another were the ways we have to work to solve these problems: multi-disciplinary, end-to-end, and collaboratively. Sounds like how I have worked as a user experience professional for many years. And the third piece is the overall importance that connecting things via web technologies will be, something else I am starting to get pretty good at.

What does this have to do with World Usability Day (which is going on as I write this, on the other side of the globe from me)?

  1. This year's theme is WUD Transportation: see the Global Transportation Challenge, read transportation experiences and many of the events will focus on transportation issues. For Smart Planet, one of the examples is about changing driving behavior.
  2. Last year WUD was about Healthcare, another common problem cited in the Smart Planet work.
  3. More generally, my participation in WUD the past few years has forced me to think more planet wide, more "worldly." I think it has helped prepare me for something like Smart Planet.
  4. I suspect I could make many more connections between the Earth-Day inspired World Usability Day and Smart Planet, but this is getting too long already. You get my point.

I have zero pull within IBM, but it makes sense to me that IBM should sponsor it in some way in 2009. If the company is really serious about Smart Planet, it needs to start sponsoring ways to foster the conversation, and World Usability Day 2009, with a theme of "Smart Planet" would be the perfect fit for a design thinking angle. If Sam gives me a call [LOL] then I will happily introduce him to Elizabeth Rosenzweig.

So as I reflect on this blog posting, and in anticipation of my World Usability Day starting tomorrow, I am left with one last thought.

User experience and information architecture cannot solve the world's problems, but with a push from the business world, the right political climate, and some inspiration, I am ready, willing and able to chip in and do my part. I do not really care what we call it.

Silver surfers

The US home page has a feature on Helping seniors surf the web. The video sets the stage by talking about the aging Japanese population, and then explains how IBM helped Mitsukoshi, a department store, make its web site easier to use for older people.

The Human Ability and Accessibility Center has a case study if you want to know some of the details. (I thought there might be a Japanese version of the case study, but that page just links to the English version. No, I do not read Japanese, but one "trick" I have learned over the years is how to navigate in Japanese, and other languages, that I cannot read. One of the skills you acquire being on a worldwide team and working with great folks around the world, I guess.)

I think the last time usability and accessibility got this kind of coverage on the US home page was February 2007. Good to see. IBM does lots of cool things like this.

And in case anyone was wondering, I am part of the team that manages the high level links across the sites. That includes the links in the tabs on the home pages (come to my talk in Detroit next week to hear stories about those links), but I have nothing to do with the feature stories. This time, however, the home page feature folks did give me a heads-up that this story was coming, since they knew I would be interested in it and might want to write about here. So I got a sneak preview of this one.

IBM Center for Social Software

My employer announced the opening of the IBM Center for Social Software today. Irene Greif kicked off the "MIT day" of the IBM Academy of Technology Conference on Future User Interfaces with the news of the new center, that she will be leading. I was able to attend part of the conference remotely, but I missed Irene's talk this morning (darn real work!). Here are some more tidbits I tracked down.

And, no, I did not have anything to do with the Center's web pages. If I would have been involved, I would have made sure they at least came a little bit closer to our standards.

IBM Total User Experience Innovation

Check out the July 22nd BusinessWeek: Innovation of the Week podcast:

  • R&D: The D Is for Design. "How research and development must change. Monty Montague, a principal at innovation consultancy Bolt, discusses how incorporating design into traditional R and D departments has led to major innovations at companies ranging from IBM to Herman Miller."

The basic question: "What is the relationship between research and innovation?" A few overall notes:

  • Innovation defined as "invention that gets out in the world" (debatable: "and provides value")
  • Do demand-driven research, not supply-driven (e.g., "outside-in" not "inside-out" which is the more traditional way)
  • Colt 45s and individualized blender examples
  • Key is "making connections" with the outside (customers, users, other industries)
  • The "D" is becoming more than just "development", including "design" (and design thinking)
  • Product, service and process innovation (not just products)

At about 6 and a half minutes into the interview. Monty starts talking about IBM. I may have transcribed some of the words wrong, but here is the basic quote:

Total user experience is how IBM has, not only through research and through revamping of their business model, developed innovative products, but they are innovating the user experience. And that is part of what R&D needs to do today. It needs to not consider itself a "product R&D group," but an "experience R&D group." And look at not only the development of the product, but the development of the user guide for the product, the service center for the product, the call center, the people calling to get information about the product, the selling environment in which the product is sold. All of those are touchpoints for the consumer that are as important as the product and the R&D team can be the facilitator of the innovation around all of those. And IBM has done that.

He does not mention specific examples or sources, but it is a very nice thing to say about IBM.

Since Monty seems like such a smart guy, I did a little searching for other things he has written. I only found a few:

Blog topics: 

IBM Service Science feature

The US home page has a feature on Service Science this week.

(In the past, I have written about service innovation, frontiers in service and service science in politics.)

The main angle for this IBM feature on Service Science, Management and Engineering seems to be "it is the next computer science" (not unlike web science).

A few quotes:

  • IBM helped create "computer science" as a field of study... IBM is again at the forefront of the next major trend in college and professional education...
  • We already live in a world full of service systems, with access to more and more every day. Computer science was studying something that was very rare in the world—digital computers... (Jim Spohrer)
  • Traditional courses do not integrate across discipline boundaries...It will be very important that graduates understand that an SSME focus will lead to good jobs and careers... (Lynne Rosansky)
  • It provides for an integrated framework to explore all disciplines, especially computer science and information technology... (Mohammed Ghriga)
  • ...a group of full professors starts to teach and research SSME, then they get from their faculty a recognition of their discipline, then the ministry of universities recognizes the discipline and then it is possible to get new full professors... (Guido M. Rey)
  • ...the emerging model for software engineering is to offer an ongoing service as opposed to a tangible product acquired through a one-time sale. (Aaron Quirk)

One of the items of additional reading is the Succeeding through Service Innovation white paper, which I had the pleasure of giving feedback on. I commented on various aspects of user experience that seemed to be missing. They did use one of my quotes about the relevance to business.

I think we still have a long way to go to get the next generation ready to fix all of the messes we are going to leave them, but inter-disciplinary approaches like SSME are a step in the right direction.

Blog topics: 


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