Tag Archives: usability standards

Publishing great content on BT’s intranet

When I posted about the latest results for BT ‘BT Intranet 2010 benchmark results‘ I promised to give examples the Intranet Benchmarking Forum highlighted as global best practice. 

The first example is about our content.  IBF said all pages across BT’s intranet contain author and date information.  The content is well structured in headline style, with bullets and sub-headings.  BT’s intranet is largely jargon-free and scored well in Flesch comprehension testing, but could be further improved by ensuring all acronyms have explanatory title tags.

We have achieved this by embedding our intranet standards in to the templates used for publishing the different types of content

This means publishers can concentrate on the quality of the information and not their technical abilities.

For users there is a consistent experience as they move transparently from one type of content to another.  For example the BT global navigation bar appears in the same place with the same headings that link to the same place on every page.

We encourage with guidance and training for our publishers to use the right tone of voice and wherever possible to avoid jargon.

It helps to show why 4 out of 5 BT Intranet users are very/satisfied when last surveyed.

2010 BT Intranet user research update

I recently posted about the latest user satisfaction with BT’s intranet but forgot to mention one key area which really troubles me.  Self service applications.

You will know my concerns on their usability and the problems trying to improve it.  Well, the research confirmed all of these and showed me how much users are prepared to put up with because they have no choice.

But it is the huge loss of productivity because of the time taken completing tasks, asking helpdesks, colleagues or searching for online guidance or having to be trained to do these tasks which is my aim too.

I am working with my IT partners in BT and with our suppliers of self service applications like Oracle to improve the ‘out of the box’ usability.

This will take time but it is tackling the problem at the root source so should ultimately bring many benefits to BT and other customers of these applications.

Improving usability with Oracle

Oracle is holding their first Usability Board Europe meeting on May 5th.  I’ve been to a previous Oracle meeting and am keen to improve the usability of all applications BT uses.

At this meeting Oracle and founding members will:

The usability issues I will be raising are:

  1. Out of the box usability must be high
  2. Better usability does not mean more features.  It means features must be more usable.
  3. Think of users when offering help.
  4. Don’t focus on making error messages better, aim to prevent users making errors.

I’m sharing some slides I plan to use at the meeting.  Anyone want to add anything?

How users know its the right content

In my post ‘How to get quality content’ I showed how much people value BT’s intranet and are confident about the integrity of the content they use.  BT’s intranet standards mean publishers must keep information up to date and clearly owned so users can rely on it.

In this post I’m going to cover BT’s intranet standard on naming of pages that helps users to find what they need more easily.

Each page should have a title relevant to the content to help users when they bookmark your site or scan search results. The title also appears in the top of the browser window giving users extra reassurance they have arrived at the right place.

Also try to pick a title which will help users when looking in an A-Z (so publishers in BT don’t need to start everything with BT) or call your page ‘homepage’ or ‘index’.

Title tags are in the head section of the HTML. Users of content management systems can set the page title in the properties section of the page.  Aim for having enough information in the first 20 characters of the title to identify the page.

Headings help users scan the page, search engines summarise it and text readers to skim it. Sub section headings help break up the page and allow the user to understand the page structure.

Some assistive technologies have a “skip to next heading” option, so use the <H1>, <H2>, <H3> and <H4> tag (or choose a heading style in the content management system) rather than just make ‘normal’ text look larger.

Choose your heading text with care, aiming to maximise ‘scanning’. The main page heading should ideally match the title tag and give a clear reassurance to people arriving at that page that they have chosen the correct link.

The benefit you gain from intranet standards

I was asked at the recent IntraTeam event (most excellent! :-)) to explain in more detail about BT’s intranet standards for publishers.  I have posted before about 5 ‘must have’ standards and about accessibility and usability.

I thought it would help to say first why I think standards are important and the benefits for everyone in BT.

Intranet publishing standards need to have compelling reasons for being used.  For BT’s intranet these can include:

  • Legal: web accessibility, copyright and image rights
  • Regulatory: BT’s undertakings with OFCOM
  • Business: content up to date and reviewed and branding
  • Users: print, PDA features and global navigation bar 

The main thing is, whatever the reason, is that it:

You must also make it as easy as possible for publishers to comply with these standards.  The higher you make this barrier the more difficult it will be to achieve and the more time and effort needed to do this.

So template features for content management that build in standards like owner, review date, copyright, PDA versions of the information mean publishers have no choice and find it much easier to comply.

I’ll cover our standards in more detail in the next few weeks.  Please let me know which ones you want me to cover first.

Use accessibility as a lever to improve

I sometimes come across sites and applications on BT’s intranet which could be more usable.  I find it can be easier to pick up with the owner or developer about its accessibility as a lever to improve other areas such as usability.  Why you may ask?

Well there are some improvements which are a matter of opinion.  What is usable to one person maybe very unusable to another.  They are subjective.

But accessibility is NOT subjective.  Either a site is accessible or not.  Also in most countries there is a legal requirement for web services (this includes intranets) to be accessible.  The level required may vary.

Accessibility standards are available to everyone on the internet.  So whether a site or application is developed, published or managed inside or outside of your organisation, the information will always be there.

When a site or application’s accessibility is being updated it is a great opportunity to improve the usability and make other changes at the same time.

So ideally you can improve a site or application so it is legal and improved in other ways to give a better overall experience for all users.

Preventing accessibility problems as well as correcting existing problems is very important for your users as well as your organisation’s legal responsibilities.

I’ll post soon about what BT does on web accessibility.

The future for BT’s intranet?

At the end of 2009 I posted about BT’s intranet being 15 years old and the progress made in that time.

BT’s intranet has constantly evolved to meet the changing needs of the business and how it best helps people to be able to do their work as effectively as possible.

BT’s intranet has always aimed to be simple and easy to use.  People use it to complete an activity such as a room booking, check the latest news and more recently, publish and use opinions and views with people that have the same interests across BT.

So what’s my view on its future for 2010?  It’s likely to see BT’s intranet:

  • become even easier to use, wherever you are – at home, coffee shop or BT building – whenever you want to and with any device – your PC, BT’s computing kit or mobile – and the real difference will be the experience will be the same.
  • ease of use will also mean you won’t need to keep authenticating to use applications and content protected behind passwords.  Just login once and then loading up your browser will give you faster access to what you need.
  • people will find it as easy to publish content they want to share or own as sending an email and be able to search for all the different types of information on BT’s intranet from one search page that gives you what you need.

Maybe these are not earth shattering aims?  But I know if I can help achieve any of these people in BT will benefit more from using our intranet. 

And that’s what my role as BT Intranet manager is. :-)

Prevent intranet errors rather than cure them

BT’s intranet is everyone’s workplace for whatever they need to for their work.  Whether it is reading the latest news, collaborating with people or completing a task you need to use the BT intranet.

So it is vital BT makes sure people are 100% confident they can rely on the integrity of the information and applications on BT’s intranet. 

BT does this with a small central team to set standards and prevent errors happening so everyone can rely on  the BT Intranet.  These include:

Clauses in contracts

In BT’s procurement process there is a clause to make sure any web service bought meets the UK Disability and Discrimination Act 1995 for web accessibility.  BT aims for WAI W3C AA standards.  There is also a clause on the usability standards the web service needs to meet.  These clauses help prevent web services being implemented that don’t meet BT’s intranet standards.

Standards for developing web services

The same applies for web services BT develops as well as buys on accessibility and usability.  The developers refer to our accessibility and usability standards and apply them to the software they develop.  This gives a consistent approach to any new web service for BT Intranet users.

Publishing templates

For all types of content published BT has built as many standards as possible into the templates used.  This saves time training publishers and it doesn’t dely them publishing content.  Templates are AA compliant for web accessibility, usable .  Templates have links to PDA format, print, A-Z, global navigation bar, name of page owner, review date, etc.  Users see the same information in the same parts of the screen across BT’s intranet giving a consistently valuable experience.

Publishing training

Before anyone can publish format content they need to show they have completed online training covering publishing standards.  This builds up a consistent level of awareness and understanding before anyone publishes.  For other content types like blogs people don’t need approval or training – they just start publishing……….

All of these have combined to reduce issues to a minimum that cause a loss of productivity, business decisions taken on inaccurate information and unnecessary helpdesk queries.

Oracle responds to my UCM wish list

I had another call with Oracle to build on their initial response to my first call and my recent meeting with Oracle about my UCM improvements wish list.  This focused on the usability issues BT has with Oracle  UCM version 10GR3.

They have attempted to address the issues we have raised.  There are changes with 10GR4 and 11GR which Oracle claim will improve the usability of UCM.  However I’m not sure whether BT can justify the resources required to use UCM ‘well enough’ to gain these benefits.

I really want UCM to have simpler, fewer, features that mean user with little or no technical skills can easily use it for publishing content.  Oracle’s focus is also on improving usability but for the highly skilled technical minded people not the majority of users.

I’m not the only one with issues.  Look at the SWOT analysis on UCM the University of Minnesota carried out.

So, Oracle are making improvements.  Oracle have offered to pick up the outstanding issues not fixed by releases already completed with BT later in October.

So, continue to let me know of the issues you have that I can raise on your behalf by commenting, tweeting or emailing me.

Is Oracle up to its old tricks?

My first meeting with Oracle last week went well.  Oracle agreed with my usability issues and promised to improve their usability.  My call on Friday with Oracle to cover my UCM issues started off well.  Oracle agreed I did have good points about UCM’s usability.  Oracle agreed to email me with actions, owners and timescales. 

However that didn’t happened.  Instead of a commitment to say what version would solve which problem and involving me in any unsolved issues all I have been offered is another call this Friday to cover what Oracle can do.

Maybe I’m being impatient but since it was 3 months ago that I originally raised these same issues it is disappointing the answers are not ready to hand on what Oracle can do.

So while I am making progress on wider usability issues with Oracle products through the Customer Advisory Council, the news isn’t so good for UCM…………….so far.

I’ll update you on any news after Friday’s call.