Ergonomic Software

I started in IT a couple decades ago but it was not my first career choice.  I had just had my first child, I was unsatisfied with my then job path, and I took it upon myself to get some career counseling.  You know the type.  You sit at a 'computer' (notices the air quotes), answer some lifestyle choices, and it spits out a recommended list of career paths.  I suppose that it came out mainly IT related should not have been a surprise but what did surprise me was that it also suggested I go into Ergonomics.  What was ergonomics?

er·go·nom·ics (noun)

1. (used with a sing. verb) The applied science of equipment design, as for the workplace, intended to maximize productivity by reducing operator fatigue and discomfort. Also called biotechnology, human engineering, human factors engineering.
2. (used with a pl. verb) Design factors, as for the workplace, intended to maximize productivity by minimizing operator fatigue and discomfort: The ergonomics of the new office were felt to be optimal.
 
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

Eventually I did get into IT.  I went back to university, got a degree, a job, and worked my way up from the help desk to where I am now.  If you ask me what I do, I'll refer you to my wife's answer … "no idea … computer stuff …".  About sums it up.

The idea of ergonomics never crossed my mind again until I became an application developer.  I started supporting code on the Remedy platform, now called the BMC Remedy IT Service Management suite.  If you have never heard of it, it is basically an enterprise help desk, change management, cmdb, etc, etc platform that most large corporations use for IT support.  Back in the day, however, it was mainly just a platform, and we wrote what we needed to that our helpdesk(s) needed to do their job and manage tickets. 

What's my point?  Hold on …

I had worked my way to where I was via the help desk: an unforgiving job if there ever was one.  Still, I understood what it was and what it took to be an agent.  You had to live in your support tool and if it sucked, which it invariably did, it made your day suck.  So … I did what any newb developer did and pestered (and begged and pleaded) with my boss to allow me to rewrite the whole thing … and she did!  (A heartfelt thanks to her by the way!)

Here is where the ergonomic part comes in (finally).  Ergonomics as above takes the physical layout of your office and optimizes it for your comfort, productivity, etc.  Software that 'just works', to me, is the same thing.  I had a chance then to take what I had learned and gone through as a support agent, and give back to my fellows that were still slogging through tickets.  It took a year, a lot of arguing, yelling, cajoling, late nights, etc but I wrote it!  It wasn't perfect by any means but it was the best I had with the skills I had at the time.  More to the point, it was what I had envisioned as the tool I would want to use if I was on the service desk (thanks ITIL for the new moniker :P ).

EMS … I think it stood for Enterprise Management System … I really can't remember … went into production on our service desk … I would like to say smoothly.  Yeah whatever. It had some bugs. We worked through them, and last I heard that company was still using it until they were 'acquired' by the larger parent company.  More to the point, for me, it was one of the most satisfying opportunities ever to create what I had come to realize was "Ergonomic Software".  The feedback from the front line was that it had made their jobs infinitely easier.  Not perfect, but more in tune with what they did minute by minute.  I came to look at software in that light.  It should always be written that way.  It does not matter how whiz bang excellent your back end systems are, how amazing your executive reports look (I am looking at YOU SAP …), if the front end … you know, the INTERFACE the majority of your agents will be struggling with daily … is not ERGONOMIC, all the quality of your backend stuff suffers.  Make an app with a decent useable ERGONOMIC interface and your agents, users, etc will, well maybe not enjoy, but will not spend time struggling with the interface but will instead capture good useable data because it is all at their fingertips.  A customer can tell when an agent is happy … I don't care how well you 'fake it till you make it'.  SD Agents are your frontline face to your customer.  Arm them with the best tools you can.  ERGONOMIC tools suited to THEIR needs, not yours.

Your customers will thank you.

Ken Dowdle

Senior Consultant and BMC Fanboy

Autologica Consulting

ken.dowdle@autologica.co