Sunday, August 21, 2011

Systems versus The Real World

By: Frank Buytendijk, chief marketing officer

This morning I bought a train ticket at the machine. The procedure was aborted by the machine: “Unusable Card” it said. Unusable? I had just bought a sandwich with it, and it was quite usable yesterday too, thank you very much. The machine should have said “I am terribly sorry for failing in the single task I am actually supposed to do, but I can’t seem to read your card”.

As the mother of all ironies, when I was sharing my frustration about the machine with someone on the phone, we got disconnected. A metallic voice told me “Your call has been completed.” Excuse me? My call wasn’t completed at all, it was terminated. That is what the voice should have said.

Both examples are typical results of engineering thinking, reasoning from within the system. Everything outside of the rules of the system is seen as an anomaly, a.k.a. the real world. As much attention is being paid to user interfaces and interaction, if the designers live within the confines of their own systems, instead of in the world of the users, they will create silly responses that annoy users, and reduce users to operators of the system. The purpose of the system is the use, not the system itself.

Focusing on what is happening in the real world is one of the most important characteristics of Be Informed. The business rules that drive the system’s are completely transparent, as part of a metamodel. They are not locked into the system at all. And with Be Informed you don’t completely predefine the processes it needs to support. All you do is define the boundaries of the possible activities a user could do. Within those boundaries, users are completely free to use the system in the way they see fit. There is no predefined order of steps, and the system is simply there to help you find the shortest and best way to complete the transaction. This idea is called dynamic case management. Building a system with Be Informed is not about application development, it is not more (and less) than business engineering. Engineering as it should be, putting the user and his or her reality first.