Creating effective systems – it’s about the technology & the people!

Inter-operability of systems is a good thing! But it’s about the people too.

The ability for information to transfer across and between organizations is a key aspect of organizational effectiveness and/or the effectiveness of broader systems. Often, however, in these types of discussions of information inter-operability, the focus lies on the technical systems at hands. The focus is on specific differences in what technology is involved or how different technologies interact

In this respect, these approaches – including, as an example, the International Organization for Standardization’s (ISO) Technical Report on Health Informatics – rely heavily on two key concepts:

  • Functional inter-operability – the exchange of information between two or more systems in a format that is readable by humans; and
  • Semantic inter-operability – information shared is understood by formally defined domain concepts and is computer process-able by the receiving system.

The problem though is that these approaches exclude an important part of these systems – human users. This is despite the increased focus on user experience and the growth of ‘Human-Computer Interaction’ design over the last twenty years.

This is an important oversight to overcome as the effectiveness of work systems is heavily dependent up the ways in which human and technological aspects of systems are designed with respect to one another.

Some interesting recent research has explored the ways in which re-framing the focus of inter-operability helps provide a more realistic, and hence more useful, model for approaching the issue of organizational inter-operability. Their approach:

characterizes differences in work activities based on the work of a user rather than the technical capabilities of the system, and in this way, shifts the focus of description from one of technological capability to the performance of and impact on the joint human–technology system (ref).

Bringing the user back into the frame has a number of important implications.

One is the realization that in some cases lower levels of automation may be more effective. This is contrary to standard thinking, which is that higher levels of automation are better overall, particularly as that is seen as working to increase inter-operability. This is not the case though if there is ‘pushback’ by users on inputting data into machines – which is often the case for tasks that may break workflow. Automation may thus be better delayed in this case until technology that supports direct transfer is supported.

Another important implication is it provides a greater understanding of the need to more effectively communicate various system capabilities to users in a way that feels both more meaningful and more directly related to their specific work activities. One of the major reasons for the failure of deployment of new technological systems is a lack of user uptake. Without a consideration of user needs, and helping users understand why they ought to adopt and/or use new systems – and not just in terms of efficiencies of use but overcoming the inertia of long-term use – programs like this will continue to fail.

Ensuring that human needs are incorporated in the design and build out phases of technological deployments is a crucially important step. We need to always ensure that the system as a whole is being taken into consideration as we design and build it out. Users are a vital part of any system – even systems designed to increase informational interoperability.

A successful design is one that depends on a deep understanding of the ways in which the technological and human aspects of a system are designed with respect to one another. Both are always required – and successful systems (and so too system deployments) take this matter seriously.

Images courtesy of: Pixabay