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An international peer-reviewed journal

User-Centered Design in Procured Software Implementations

Jen Hocko

Journal of Usability Studies, Volume 6, Issue 2, February 2011, pp. 60 - 74

Article Contents


To enable efficient and cost effective business operations, IT organizations often have to make decisions about whether to develop custom built software or to purchase best-of-breed, Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) products. This decision is often driven by how IT answers several questions, including the following questions:

Often the answers to these questions lead to decisions to evaluate and purchase COTS products, which was precisely what happened in the author’s organization.

In January 2008, the author was asked by the Finance Business area and IT to evaluate the usability of several COTS products they were considering to replace an outdated, custom-built Expense Reporting System. The project team cared about how a new system would impact the organization’s 2,000+ users worldwide and wanted to ensure they selected a product that offered the best possible user experience. After some preliminary research, the author discovered that other usability practitioners were also thinking about this challenge (Larson, 2008; Sherman, 2008). The goal at this time was how to work usability activities into the COTS evaluation process.

The author combined the organization’s existing development process with industry-standard user-centered design methods to create a detailed methodology that compared the usability of COTS products being considered for purchase (Hocko, 2009). Over the next two years, several usability specialists at our organization applied this methodology to a number of COTS evaluation projects and worked to refine it based on project teams’ feedback and challenges faced. Today, each stage of this methodology is incorporated into the IT department’s official hardware/software vendor selection process, and usability is considered as a factor in the overall procurement process. There is also a lightweight version available for project teams without the time or resources to utilize the full methodology (Larson, Hocko, & Bye, 2010).

While pleased and encouraged by the results of these efforts to include usability in product evaluations, the author now faces a different challenge: How can usability specialists add value to COTS implementations? How do usability specialists keep project teams thinking about end-users when these teams are encouraged to use purchased products out-of-the-box and to configure them?

This case study describes the author’s involvement in a Microsoft SharePoint implementation (including some challenges and lessons learned), then describes some other ways that usability specialists might add value to COTS implementations that may have less similarities to typical web development projects.

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