Turnaround is the name of the game when you’re developing software. Once a client — whether internal or external — provides its list of requirements, the development team’s goal is to visualize the design and deliver a prototype to the client as quickly as possible for user-experience testing and review. Ideally, that prototype should be interactive, but in reality, sometimes it isn’t. So when Jose Coronado was first told about a new solution that could dramatically reduce the time it took his organization to go from requirements to an interactive prototype, he thought it was too good to be true. Fortunately, he didn’t stop there.
As the Senior Director of User Experience at human capital management technology and service provider Automatic Data Processing, Inc. (ADP), Coronado works in an organization that develops human resource management, benefits administration, payroll, time and labor, and talent management solutions. These business solutions can complement employers’ ERP implementations, such as an SAP ERP rollout. The user experience priorities for the user interface (UI) of those solutions, says Coronado, are simplicity, intuitiveness, consistency, and relevance. The best way to ensure that those qualities are included in the design process is to quickly turn around a client’s requirements to provide a prototype for earlier review.
The moment that Coronado’s organization receives requirements, the clock starts ticking until the team can deliver a prototype to the client for user testing. Historically, his organization had three options to meet this goal:
- Deliver a very visual, non-interactive set of screens so users can see what the product will look like but not actually test the functionality. This option is faster but less interactive than the next two.
- Develop HTML prototypes based on the static screens. This option takes more time but provides some interactivity.
- Develop a more functional prototype stable enough to put in front of users for testing. This third option gives the users a better sense of what the solution will do, but takes more time and introduces the risk of going too far down the wrong path.
ADP’s analysts, designers, and developers operated in this manner until five years ago when they were approached about testing the SAP Application Visualization software by iRise. Representatives from SAP partner iRise told Coronado that the solution could streamline ADP’s prototype analysis and design process from months to days and provide users with an interactive prototype.
“When I first saw the description of this solution, I was skeptical and thought it must be oversimplifying the process,” Coronado says. “But we decided to go forward with a pilot to evaluate the solution. No matter what you hear about a technology, you have to put your hands on it to validate it.”
“We went from weeks or months before we could put new designs in front of a user, to just a few days.”
— Jose Coronado, Senior Director of User Experience, ADP
Pilot Takes Off
In 2008, Coronado organized a small pilot of the visualization solution for 30 users over the course of six months. At the time, it took Coronado’s organization an average of 6–12 weeks to deliver a non-interactive or minimally interactive design to clients so they could validate that their requirements were being included. Much of that work was done in Microsoft Visio, PowerPoint, or Adobe Photoshop. If ADP wanted to deliver code to clients for testing, the process typically took about several weeks, if not months.
As Coronado learned, SAP Application Visualization produces a web-based simulation of the solutions that users can interact with for testing purposes. The visualization looks and behaves exactly like the desired solution, so users get a feel for the application’s design and can provide feedback before coding takes place. New features or improvements to existing features can be tested for usability by representative end users to ensure that the features make sense and add value for the actual people who will be utilizing them on a daily basis.
“The pilot was very successful. Using this visualization solution, we could deliver a prototype in several days, instead of weeks or months,” Coronado says. “We could move from requirements to prototyping much faster. My initial skepticism vanished, and we quickly decided to purchase licenses and expand our use of this technology. The prototypes are so interactive, some of our external clients thought their application was already built when they saw the demo. Within the first year, we documented several strong success stories.”
As ADP expanded its use of application visualization, the impact on the development cycle became even clearer — the process was happening much faster.
Building a prototype more quickly leaves more time for internal review, usability testing, and validation to ensure the proposed solution is on track to meet client requirements. In addition, internal ADP stakeholders in areas such as training and development could plan their support better by getting an earlier look at the solution.
And of course, delivering the client a solution that users can touch and interact with results in much more useful feedback earlier in the development process. According to Coronado, the entire process has become more iterative so ADP’s developers won’t progress too far down the wrong path but instead progress more directly to the desired outcome. The amount of rework required on their designs declined the more they used SAP Application Visualization, and they received more feedback that they were on the right track.
“The longer you wait to validate, the more work will be necessary to make changes to the prototype,” says Coronado. “Modifying something that took a day to build is easier — and less expensive — than modifying something that took a month to build. Building a stable prototype that you can click through in just a few hours or a few days is certainly more in line with the agile design process for software development we are seeking.”
Coronado says ADP’s use of the application visualization technology not only streamlines the development process, but also produces real top-line benefits. The technology helps ADP bring new products to market much faster and revitalizes its existing solutions that need an updated UI.
For example, Coronado says that the UI on ADP’s international solution suite, which is powered by SAP software, was in dire need of some usability improvements, but the length of such a process always put it on the back burner. Using SAP Application Visualization, in just three months, ADP defined a blueprint of that solution suite by designing and visualizing 40 different modules with about 400 pages. The blueprint provided a model for understanding the complexity and investments required to revitalize the user interface on the solution suite, so a more detailed timeline and plan could be developed.
“Today, we are in nearly 45 countries with that solution suite. The application showed us the top-line value of defining the user interface earlier, demonstrating a large number of the solution’s features before the actual product is built, and having the visualization behave the way the actual product will,” he says. “The agility we gained with application visualization gave us the opportunity to be significantly more competitive in the global marketplace.”
ADP is using the solution in non-SAP areas of its business as well. Recently, the company built a simulation of a commercial banking solution in about three weeks that included both ADP components and the financial institution’s components. That project alone contributed about $35 million in revenue to ADP’s top line, which provides ROI for the application visualization project in one shot.
Learning from Experience
There is one caveat, however. Coronado points out that using application visualization speeds the time to a prototype so dramatically that various internal teams might not be prepared for just how rapid the prototyping is. Teams should be prepped on the accelerated processes so they can appropriately allocate time to conduct internal reviews and perform necessary arrangements to get the prototypes in front of external clients in a timely manner.
One of the key benefits to application visualization technology that should not be overlooked is the use of accelerator libraries. Assets such as UI patterns, widgets, graphics, or “product parts” created for a prototype can be stored within the application for use in future projects, and deliver significant time savings by reducing duplicate work. New projects can get off the ground much more quickly.
Coronado offers one last piece of advice. “Even if you’re experienced with application visualization, you need to continually document your success stories and make sure that stakeholders and executive sponsors know about them,” he says. “No single approach resolves all client experience challenges, but visualization is a critically important tool in modeling interactions and behavior and driving the right outcomes.”