My first experience with the term “Ease of Use” had to do with the IBM personal computer. At that time, many people were simply intimidated by computers. In the drive to put computers in the hands of more people, software simply had to be easier to use. The term, “Ease of Use” has grown into a science. There is even an ISO standard for usability, (ISO 9241-11: Ergonomics of human-system interaction). The concept of ease of use is considered at every intersection of human beings and technology.
It’s not my goal to get into the weeds on this, but rather to focus on the concept of ease of use and why the concept is still extremely important when choosing a technology solution. From your cell phone to your lawn mower, how a device works affects the user’s experience and ultimately their satisfaction with the product. In the Mortgage industry, it may not be a device but rather the Loan Origination System, Loan Servicing system, Secondary Marketing system, or in our case, the accounting system or any of the many systems being used. These systems generally require a significant investment in money and time to implement and use, and as such you need to find out before you invest how well the system will be received by your users.
Ease of Use is not just about screen design, although well designed screens are critical. Screens should engage the user rather than intimidate the user, but it’s much more than that. There are numerous tasks to be completed in these systems, and how the whole system comes together to address those tasks will determine the success or failure of a given product. If the system is easy to use, the implementation should be easier, training should be easier, and the day to day use of the product should be easier. How much easier can be measured by the amount of effort expended to perform these tasks as compared to other options. The reduction in human effort required can translate into significant savings.
There are certain requirements to a successful implementation of any system. The need for dedicated resources and an implementation plan are key. These days, converting data from the old system to the new one is aided by the fact that data is generally much more accessible than it was in the past. The key questions here are “Does the system have the functionality to bring data into the new system?” and “What technical level of personnel will be required to perform this task?” The same is true when building integrations to other systems. Is this something that already exists within the product, or does it have to be built for each client? Most systems today have the ability to integrate with other systems, but the personnel required to create these integrations can be the source of unexpected costs.
The number of custom modifications needed can dramatically impact the cost and time needed to implement any system. The need for such customization is often a necessary part of the implementation process. Many systems take the approach of creating separate “one off” versions for individual clients. Whenever possible, we have taken the approach that new clients should benefit from functionality added for other clients in the past, and those existing clients will benefit from changes made for new clients in the future. The benefits are a dramatic reduction in the time and expense of custom programming, and the ability to support a common version of the product instead of a different product per client. This allows us to keep our cost down, and to pass that savings on to the client.
Training is required with any system, but entry forms should be intuitive, especially to someone familiar with the business context. In our case, an Accounts Payable person should recognize what the Payable entry form is requesting. It shouldn’t take days of training to get someone proficient with a given function within the system. This is critical because the easier the system is to understand and use, the more likely it is that people will use the system correctly. It’s also important because the shorter the learning curve, the easier it is to bring new users up to speed, and to have users cover for one another.
Ease of use in the day to day operation of the product is critical. This is where the majority of time is being spent in the system. Well-designed navigation and screens will directly impact the user’s experience. It’s not a matter of users being picky, and it’s not just the number of keystrokes; but the number of keystrokes matter. Systems that were properly designed for the task at hand should have fewer keystrokes. The number of keystrokes will directly affect the time and cost it takes to complete a task.
But the number of keystrokes is only part of the calculation. The easier the system is to use, the quicker users will embrace the technology. By embracing the technology, users are less likely to go outside of the system to perform tasks that could have been done within the system. By staying within the system, data that may be critical to other operations within the company is contained within one database, and not some spreadsheet stored on someone’s local drive.
An added benefit of a well-defined system is the ability to use less experienced and lower paid individuals to complete certain tasks within the product. With the right control environment built into user entry screens and import functions, the system can catch errors before they are entered.
Many systems available to lenders have been serving the Mortgage industry for quite some time. As such, the software has evolved over time. Competition forces companies to continually enhance their products to allow their clients to do more. The dedication to the Mortgage industry suggests that functionality provided for one client may be needed by another. This constant level of development provides an ease of use inherent in the sheer number of functions the product can perform. For example: A number of times, we’ve encountered the situation in which a client’s implementation of a new loan origination system (LOS) was forcing them to change the structure of their loan number. We had seen this before and had a built-in utility to change that structure within our system. Having such a utility not only saved the client financially, it made the process of changing their LOS easier.Ease of use isn’t athing, it’s everything! The makers of every product are trying to make their products easier to use so that they can win the battle for your business. It’s way beyond the look and feel of the product, although the look and feel are critical. It’s the depth of functionality available to the user, and encompasses the way every task is completed, how quickly each task can be completed and the expertise needed to complete that task.
About The Author
Brian Lynch is President of Advantage Systems. Lynch has lead Advantage Systems for over 25 years to constantly adapt the company’s flagship Accounting for Mortgage Bankers (AMB) product to meet the continually evolving needs of the mortgage industry. His focus on client support and on client-driven new product development has allowed AMB to be the industry leader in accounting software for mortgage professionals. From its inception, the company’s goal has been to make their client’s lives easier. This year has seen the release of an entirely new reporting platform designed to deliver better drill down, drill up and drill through functionality within a fully browser-based environment, allowing users the ability access to data anywhere, at any time.