Friday, January 26, 2007

The Business Case for Usability in a Global Economy

Businesses on the Internet are tapped into a global marketplace that transcends age, geography and culture. We are more similar to one another than we may think and the practice of good usability techniques in our software, websites and web application that drives business and commerce is very important, now more than ever.

In a recent interview for ZDNet Asia, usability guru Jakob Nielsen stated that there is little difference between users in Asia than those who reside in the U.S. or Europe. The human brain functions under the same fundamental principles regardless of race, color, gender or creed. For instance, human beings have a short-term memory capacity of about seven items. Ever wonder why phone numbers are seven digits? Now you know.

So when it comes to business, especially in a global marketplace, it makes good business sense for us to emphasize usability in the software, websites and web applications. At its heart, usability is about getting the end-users the right information or helping them complete their tasks quickly and efficiently as possible and leave no obstacles in their way. The more happy end-users you have, the greater the potential for higher profits and increased market share.

There are many more benefits to emphasising usability prior to and during application development. Chief among them are:

  • Reduction in development time and costs
  • Reduction in maintenance costs
  • Decrease in training and support costs
Companies like IBM have long touted the benefits of usability. According to findings from their labs, the payback was anywhere from $10 to $100 for every $1 spent on usability. The return on investment from usability efforts is extraordinary considering that Sun Microsystems estimates 63% of all software projects overrun their budgets due to unforeseen usability problems cited as one of the main culprits.

I know that much of this post is me simply tossing out facts and figures, but let me close by bringing all of this back into context. Some application developers are not developing for a small, niche audience. Some are developing software, websites and web applications for a global audience to support commerce and business. The business case for usability is primarily tied to the bottom line of the developer or the company developing the application.

Depending on the type application, the more users you have, the higher the development and support costs. This was especially true back in the days when computer-based training was delivered on CD-ROM - in some cases it still is. If the training was inaccurate or had mistakes, the correction had to be made and new discs had to be produced and distributed. The more users you had to support with training, the higher the cost.

Now that business is no longer bound by borders, we're not talking millions of end-users. We're potentially talking about billions. Those kind of numbers will either make you or break you. So, do you think you can overlook usability?

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