Embedding usability in mid-market businesses
Competence center supports SMEs in user-centered software design
Intuitive operation is a key factor in the success of software development projects. Fraunhofer IAO is currently conducting a project entitled "Usability Inside" to investigate how middle-market software manufacturers can systematically involve future users in their product design process right from the conceptual design phase.
Competition between small and mid-sized software manufacturers is fierce and shows no sign of diminishing, yet in most cases the functionality of the products on offer is not the determining factor in whether they achieve commercial success. Increasingly, the most important factor and key selling point in this highly competitive market is intuitive user-friendliness. This is problematic for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), many of which make little or sporadic use of the criteria, approaches and methods of usability engineering.
Fraunhofer IAO has many years of project experience and expertise in this field and understands the pitfalls that can lead to poor user acceptance of devices and software. Usability experts from the institute's Interaction Lab and Usability Lab use scientific methods to determine which design criteria are most crucial in achieving user acceptance and how these can be systematically incorporated in the product design process. This knowledge has been used as the basis for the Usability Inside project. The aim of the project is to help middle-market manufacturers of enterprise software and their customers to systematically evaluate and implement usability issues in their product creation and selection processes.
In order to firmly embed the topic of usability in both software development and software selection processes, the Usability Inside project proceeds through four stages: The first step is to foster awareness of the topic in the SMEs and provide key information. In the second stage, the project partners develop specific methods and procedures. This is followed by a know-how transfer, and finally the SMEs are encouraged to become self-sufficient by using materials provided online to assist with different methods and real-life tasks.
At the heart of the project is the "Usability in SMEs" competence center, which acts as a central point of reference and network platform for issues relating to the usability of enterprise software applications in middle-market businesses. As well as organizing industry events, the competence center also offers a portfolio of services specially tailored to the needs of SMEs which are designed to promote successful usability engineering.
In addition to Fraunhofer IAO and its cooperation partner the Institute for Human Factors and Technology Management IAT, the project consortium also includes the company CAS Software AG and the German Federal Association of IT SMEs (Bundesverband IT-Mittelstand e.V.). Usability Inside forms part of the "Digital SMEs" funding initiative launched by the German federal ministry of economics and technology (BMWi) to drive forward the development and broad-based utilization of ICT applications in SMEs and the skilled trades sector.