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Announcing version 6 of SmartGuide!

Posted by Alain Lecoq on September 20th, 2015 | Comments

We are very excited to share with you the release of SmartGuide V6!

SmartGuide 6 is full of enhancements that make building your web and mobile applications easier and faster than ever before. Here’s a roundup of the new features that this release will bring you.

Complete overhaul of the Designer interfaces

smartguide-v6-screenshots-2

A great deal of effort has gone into making SmartGuide available to an even greater range of citizen developers and business users. The result is a complete overhaul of the Designer interfaces, including countless improvements that make SmartGuide more usable, useful and accessible than ever before. One of the first things you’ll notice is how the functionalities you use the most are easier to access. You’ll also notice how much faster the new interfaces respond to your commands. Plus, we’re sure you’ll enjoy the greatly expanded work area now that V6 has gone full screen.

WYSIWYG element positioning

edit-page

You told us positioning elements on a page could be simpler and we listened. You can now achieve complex layouts by rearranging elements practically anywhere on a page. You can now also resize elements directly on a page using the provided handle.

Built-in device simulator

We know you want to make your applications look good on all devices. So we made a major improvement to the page preview functionality in version 6. You can now see what your applications will look like across a wide range of devices, large and small (desktop, tablets and smartphones), by simply making a selection in a list:

screenshot-iphone6-horiz

Bootstrap-based default presentation theme

With version 6, you now benefit from all the Bootstrap goodies (responsiveness, mobile first design, grid system, etc.) when creating your fully customized theme. If Bootstrap is not your cup of tea, you can still choose another front-end framework like in previous versions.

In addition, a new layout tab for fields allows you to reference positioning properties exposed by the presentation theme. Want to show an element on all devices except for smartphones? Just check the relevant box:

responsive-properties

CSS class picker

The ability to assign CSS classes to page elements has long been available in SmartGuide Designer and has proven very useful in customizing the look and feel (and even the functionality) of specific components. SmartGuide 6 brings this functionality to a completely new level through customizable pickers that easily allow assigning CSS classes to page elements:

css-class-picker

You can define different CSS categories (e.g. text, image, button formatting options) and include class descriptions to make them easier to locate and use.

New native functions

With every release of SmartGuide, we aim to reduce the amount of code that needs to be written to build a new application. V6 is no exception as we have added 3 new native functions that previously had to be coded:

  • The Go to page function – allows you to insert a custom navigation button at any place in a page, in addition to, or in replacement of, the default page navigation mechanism;
  • The Go to Smartlet function – similar to the function above but for navigating to other applications built with SmartGuide. Very useful for creating dashboard type applications;
  • The Send an Email function – allows you to send personalized emails, including static or dynamic attachments, in response to user actions (e.g. confirmations, prefilled PDFs, data recaps, invoices or other auto-generated documents, etc.).
send-mail

Integrated help

In V6 you can now access help content directly within the Designer. For the more visual learners, we’ve also included walkthrough videos for many SmartGuide features. And as usual, if you require any assistance along the way, our team is there for you.

Try it out now!

What better way to learn all about this latest release than trying it out for yourself? If you’re an existing SmartGuide user, please contact your Alphinat representative. If you’re new to SmartGuide, you can request a free trial here.

In either case, we hope you enjoy using version 6 as much as we enjoyed building it! And as always, please let us know what you think so we can keep making SmartGuide better with each release. Thank you for your continued support!

The three key drivers of user satisfaction with State services

Posted by Alain Lecoq on January 14th, 2015 | Comments

Speed, simplicity and efficiency are what make people happier when it comes to State services, according to a December 2014 McKinsey & Company report[1]. In most cases satisfaction levels lag far behind private sector services, especially those provided by e-commerce sites.

Is it surprising, knowing that leading retailers offer customers literally a one-stop-shop to make a purchase, track their order and return damaged or unwanted merchandise? All this and much more can be performed through a single channel, a convenience that certainly contributes to these higher levels of satisfaction.

And let’s face it, dealing with a public organization is mostly a matter of complying with an obligation while shopping on an e-commerce site is intrinsically a more pleasurable undertaking, something we want to do as opposed to have to do. That being said, all hope is not lost.

As it turns out, many of the positive attributes of private sector services can equally apply to public sector ones in order to improve customer satisfaction levels. Let’s have a look at some of them below.

Speed

While speed is important across both private and public sectors, the reasons for which it is vary greatly.

Competition is fierce in the retail sector and every small edge counts. For example, knowing that 40% of people in the middle of a shopping experience abandon a web site if it takes more than 3 seconds to load[2], speed can be the difference between a closed sale and a lost one, potentially to a competitor.

In the public sector however, it’s not often that we have the choice between multiple “suppliers”. To comply with most mandated procedures, we must deal with a specific agency. In such cases, slow access to online services will not lead to the same levels of abandonment since it is still faster than visiting the agency’s offices. It can however negatively impact the user experience and satisfaction levels and lead to higher incompletion rates.

Not exactly the recipe for increasing user adoption of what should be your most cost-effective delivery channel.

So what can you do to improve the speed of your services? There are four main areas you can look at:

  1. 1. The speed of finding the relevant service ‒ This is too often overlooked, unfortunately. On most websites, the burden of finding the relevant information is squarely placed on the visitors. Most offer keyword-based search capabilities although historically, these only produce an average success rate of 50%. Since most website visitors are not subject matter experts, why not guide them to the services that apply to their particular situation to achieve greater speed, relevancy and efficiency?
  2. 2. The speed of loading an online service ‒ We will be providing detailed tips and tricks to improve web page performance in an upcoming blog post but one thing you can do right now is check whether there is anything you can do to improve perceived load times. Remember the story about people complaining how slow the elevators were in their building? Many technical solutions were considered but were too costly to implement. In the end, the decision was made to add mirrors to the elevators. The elevators weren’t any faster but the addition of mirrors made it seem that way because people now had something to do/look at while they waited. It was all about perception. Why not apply the same principle to your online services? For example, you could make sure that any instructions about how to use a service are instantly displayed while the rest of the page elements are being loaded.
  3. 3. The speed of navigating through processes ‒ The third area has to do with simplifying the process users must go through to comply with your mandated procedures. Is your online service directly modeled on your offline service? For example, are your online forms a near-perfect replication of your paper forms? While this may be quicker and more convenient for an organization, it fails to comply with the basic tenets of a user-centric approach that puts the customer at the heart of service design and service delivery‒ something which is required in today’s age of the customer to ensure online service adoption.
  4. 4. The speed of service delivery ‒ The fourth area has to do with how fast you close the “order fulfillment” loop. What is your average turnaround time between the moment a request is made and its completion and notification to the originator? Do you offer a dashboard where people can look up past transactions with your organization and check on the progress of their requests? Just as with page load time, giving people something to do while they wait‒for example the ability to check the status of their request‒can greatly help with improving the perceived turnaround time. Managing expectations is something the leading retailers have learned to do very well online as they keep customers in the loop every step of the way. They twice confirm the reception of an order and provide an estimated delivery date. They notify shoppers when their order has been shipped and provide a tracking number to follow the package at any moment. With such proactive communication, they are effectively meeting their customers’ expectations all while reducing support costs!

Simplicity

In addition to speed, simplicity is also cited as an important factor when it comes to satisfaction with State services. As you look at your own services, how easy would you say it is for people to understand or complete the tasks you ask of them? Better yet, what are the usage statistics telling you about how people are interacting with your services? For instance, is there a specific area where many people are dropping off?

Simplicity applies to many facets of online services, including their appearance. While a pleasant looking site is certainly easy on the eyes, it’s more important for it to be clear, understandable and accessible. Even better if you can combine both!

Here are some things to look out for as you peruse your online services:

  • Look out for any clutter by asking yourself if all of the elements you come across are necessary. Maybe you’ll find some decorative elements that are relics from a few years past and that can be removed.
  • Keeping it simple also applies to your site navigation, meaning people should know where they are at all times, even when they are in the middle of completing a formality on your site.
  • You should also make sure text is easy to read and that its size can be adjusted by users if needed. By default, you should aim for a medium line length of 55 characters to ensure the highest level of comprehension[3]. Line spacing also has an impact on readability and should vary according to the font size and the width taken up by the text. You can use this handy calculator to see if the typography you use follows the golden ratio.
  • Check whether you provide sufficient assistance in the way of explanations, tooltips, examples and detailed help pages to make your services easier to use.

Simplicity in design is important, as is simplicity of the service itself. Just because a process might be complex within an organization, it doesn’t have to appear that way from the outside.

So while you may need to collect a great deal of information as the entry point to a process, you don’t need to collect it at once, on a single page. Doing so will only serve to discourage users and make your service seem complicated from the get go. Instead, you should break down information and tasks into a series of easily digestible, easy-to-follow steps. This way you’ll be able to group things in logical order and create multiple paths that offer individuals the simplest (and quickest) way to get things done.

Efficiency

The third key driver of customer satisfaction relates to getting the most done with the least effort. A great exercise here is to walk in your customers’ or citizen’s shoes and try out your online services yourself. How easy is it to deal with your organization? Going through the experience of dealing with your organization from start to finish on a given process will most certainly highlight areas that could be optimized.

In addition to doing this yourself, running usability tests will also help to identify problem areas. If your service is not yet online or if you are planning on updating it, it is best to start these tests early in the development process as it is much less expensive to make changes at this stage. If you follow an iterative approach, usability tests should be run on multiple occasions, especially as you introduce new major features.

This approach is even more beneficial when you use a rapid application development tool that provides the ability to quickly create prototypes. Rapid prototyping allows you to field test your application before you commit countless hours redacting a long specifications document that has every chance of being outdated if you follow a traditional development approach.

Here are a few other points to consider as you evaluate the efficiency of your online services:

  • Are you only asking for information that is required? If some data is only required under certain circumstances, why not display it dynamically when it is needed?
  • If a process requires sending information to multiple back-end systems, is this seamless to your users or do they sometimes have to provide the same information more than once, or perform the same action repeatedly?
  • Do they have to complete their task in one sitting or can they come back at any time and pick up where they left off?
  • Do you support ensemble interactions by allowing a process to be started on one device and finished using another?
  • Can you identify other problems that are preventing tasks from being accomplished with the least waste of time and effort?

Conclusion

As we have seen, one surefire way of improving satisfaction with online services is to make the process as seamless and as useful as possible. This means allowing people to get things done, quickly, simply and efficiently.

How would you rank your online services in these departments? Which best practices do you plan on incorporating in 2015 in order to improve customer satisfaction levels?

Have you already found other ways of improving customer satisfaction with your online services? Please share them with others by letting us know in the comments section.

References

[1] Baig, Dua and Riefberg (2014). “How US state governments can improve customer service”. Insights & Publications. McKinsey & Company

[2] Work, Sean. “How Loading Time Affects Your Bottom Line”. KISSmetrics. Retrieved December 22, 2014.

[3] Dyson and Haselgrove (2001). “The influence of reading speed and line length on the effectiveness of reading from screen”. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies. Volume 54 Issue 4. Pages: 585-612 doi>10.1006/ijhc.2001.0458

The Time for Expert Computing in IT is Now

Posted by Philippe Lecoq on April 4th, 2012 | Comments

For the past 50 years, the technology industry has been defined by different points of time and the advent of various technologies. For example, the System 360 and the PC, or the Ethernet and Internet, all signify a dramatic evolution in the industry. Each innovation was created to solve a basic need, whether it was crunching numbers, connecting people or sharing information.

Today, the need for simplicity and a type of expert computing represents the next defining moment for the technology industry. In 20 years, industry experts will describe today’s industry as the point when people stopped struggling to make technology work, and instead utilized technology to increase workplace efficiency and make our lives better.

Just as the System 360 revolutionized pure computing and information processing, the ability to make technology simple throughout the enterprise will transform the industry. The consumer market has already witnessed the power of simplicity with the prolific adoption of devices like smartphones and tablets. According to Canalys, smartphones outsold PCs in 2011 and many believe tablets will overtake PCs in 2012.

Smartphones are the epitome of simple technology since they work with little to no effort on the part of the consumer. A smartphone blends the complexity of cameras, video, music, movies, voice, text, data and the internet into a simple device. The market for simplicity is clear as the smartphone industry is expected to exceed $250 billion by 2015.

Now imagine how similar simplicity could impact corporate IT, where 70 percent of the $3 trillion spent on technology this year was used just to make the technology work. That is $2.56 trillion spent just to keep the lights on. How would the industry fare if just 10 percent of the budget was focused on utilizing the computing power of the data center to drive innovation rather than trying to get the technology to work the right way?

Unfortunately, no single solution or magic device to solve the complexity of the IT industry currently exists… but what if systems could develop solutions on their own? Systems that can automatically detect and correct problems before applications start to fail and determine the best way to configure themselves would revolutionize IT.

In order to achieve such simplicity, we must understand what has worked and failed in the past and harness the best ideas from the brightest minds in the industry. With this arsenal of knowledge, expert computing can become reality.

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