Opening up to UX
Government development teams are realising the value of User Experience and Customer Experience to ensure that their apps and services deliver results and satisfy users
In the drive for smart government, a lot of time and resources have been invested in creating online services. As more services are rolled out however, government organisations are realising that simply creating an app or a portal does not mean that it will attract users. The ‘user experience’ of a service has an enormous impact on uptake — whether it is easy to use, whether you can get the information you want, how long it takes to complete a process. It is not enough just to build an app, or to deploy novel features and flashy design — good user experience makes a smart service successful.
User Experience (UX) as a discipline has emerged mainly from interface design. In relation to digital services, be it a web portal, a mobile app or a desktop application, UX aims to ensure that the user is satisfied with the service. UX studies many different aspects of an application, such as the look and feel of the design, ease of navigation, the number of clicks required to complete a task, or the rate of users failing to complete a task or abandoning the interaction. A service with good UX will be simpler and quicker to use than one that has not factored in the user experience.
In order to measure UX, practitioners use different techniques, ranging from observing users interacting with the service, and conducting verbal interviews about the experience, to measurement of time taken for interaction, or use of eye-tracker cameras or glasses that follow a user’s gaze as they use a service, to understand what parts of the screen are getting their attention, and whether the navigation is adding to the experience or if they are struggling with certain icons or menus. Other testing solutions focus on comparisons of different designs, to find out which version of a site or app works best or is preferred.
Customer Experience (CX) is often included in discussions of UX. CX includes all of the interactions with a ‘brand’ or an entity, so that it includes UX and the experience of an app, but also goes beyond into factors like brand and marketing.
With the increasing penetration of digital, it is not surprising that government is adopting UX to ensure results. Rick Howard, research vice president for Gartner noted that the public sector has tended to lag in quality of online experiences — the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) found that US government websites ranked second lowest in overall user satisfaction.
“In general, the public sector lags behind the private sector in UX/CX maturity. While government interest in, and demand for, improving their UX/CX practices is high, the rigid business architecture of government and constraints of legacy technologies and software applications perpetuates organisational silos that inhibit the transformational, cross-cutting service models necessary for delivering high quality citizen experiences,” Howard said.
There is a definite increase in government focus on UX/CX in the GCC. Amol Kadam is co-founder of Red Blue Blur Ideas DMCC (RBBi), a Dubai-based UX and Usability Consultancy agency, the only agency in the region to be part of the User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA). He said that while interest is growing, a lot of government entities have sourced expertise in UX from consulting companies from outside the region.
“Being in the UAE personally, for the last 11 years I have seen that Government is really getting keen on this front, however, I must admit that it saddens me to see that most of these efforts are either half-hearted or outsourced outside the country and end up losing on the critical, local dynamic and insights,” he commented.
Samer El Chayati, territory manager of Exceed IT Services, a provider of services including UX to government clients in the region, sees government investment in UX.
“In terms of UX/accessibility testing, private sector customers have an edge in that they already have UX personnel on their teams so they have greater knowledge of the importance of usability. Public sector customers, however, are catching up in terms of realizing the importance of UX testing, and they also have bigger budgets for more extensive testing and quality measures,” he said.
The Information Technology Authority of Oman, which is driving the country’s eTransformation plan, is supporting government entities to ensure that their websites and services follow best practices and international standards of UX. The ITA is delivering awareness and training sessions around UX standards and practices. It also offers UX testing for government entities to assess their services.
In addition, the annual HM Sultan Qaboos Awards for Excellence in eGovernment now include usability in the judging criteria for many of the awards, with the aims of ensuring that all services focus on providing a good experience to the user.
In the UAE, Dubai Smart Government was an early adopter of UX, setting up the first government UX lab in the region. Dr Ali Al-Azzawi was a consultant with DSG and is now City Experience Advisor, Smart Dubai Office, heading up Smart Dubai’s UX and CX activities.
“Smart Dubai is aiming for UX and CX to be part of the fabric of government, not an afterthought,” he said.