Can you put a price on user experience?
How Dense can we be?
Over the years I have been a part of more VDI and EUC rollouts than I can remember. One question inevitably comes up in the early discussions; can you think of what the question might be? “How many users can we get onto the system?” There are MANY things wrong with this perspective, but let’s start off with what the genesis of the question is (of course I’m assuming this is a rational person with positive intent). To set the stage, it is typically a manager or director that is asking this question. One of the underlying concerns they are trying to answer is ‘how do I know that I’m getting the value out of the investment.’ Regardless of what the solution, there is a significant investment and as any good steward of a company they want to know that the investment is worth it. Where the problem comes in is where maximizing the value drives decisions that ultimately make the solution unpalatable. Often this is due to project ROI/TCO calculations that are made with assumptions before a design is ever determined. Rather than show the previous ROI/TCO with assumptions vs actual, admins often get strong armed into compromising the solution to fit the number (please please, no applause is needed from the admins in the audience). The other underlying concern that is trying to be determined is ‘how do I know when I need to grow the environment?’ This is also a valid concern because we want what we put our effort into to be successful and plan for it to grow.
Let's do the math
So, what is the problem with all of this? First, the questions usually come before a design has even decided. It is difficult, near impossible, to answer those questions until you have a design in place and have a plan for how the system is supposed to work. The bigger problem is that it views the end user experience as a cost only. If I want happy users, then I must spend more money, full stop. No other considerations matter because...budgets. However, what if the thinking were on how to make an enjoyable user experience and measure how that adds value to the business? What if someone took the time to measure how the better user experience as it related to employee retention, employee recruitment, employee productivity?
Now before you start making effigies of me to burn, give me a moment to explain. First, the responsibility for this is absolutely on management and the business. It is to their benefit that they know these things. Second, if you are saying ‘this is too hard, it’ll take too much time and investment’ I ask you the opposite: how much is it costing you to not know that your employees aren’t performing fully because of the decisions you make? None of these items are new. Thinking of them in the context of IT certainly is. Every company knows the cost of finding an employee, cost of onboarding an employee, projected time to full utilization, cost of replacing an employee, cost of employee productivity, etc. These measurements are vastly different based on the company, but I can assure you it is being tracked. Otherwise, how can a service provider say to the admin ‘it costs 100,000 for every hour our call center is down’ or a financial services firm say, ‘it costs us 1,000,000 for every 10 minutes we can’t perform trades?’
Now let’s think about how user experience can be a value add to the business. Going back to the examples above about productivity, let’s look at it from a different perspective. If it costs 100,000 dollars for every hour an employee is not working, then logic would tell us it costs the company 50,000 for every 30 minutes they are down. If you are designing a system that runs at full or nearly full capacity, to maximize ROI of course, and it happens to slow a user down to where they are only 50% efficient vs their potential, you have cost the company 50,000 dollars even though the user was working the whole time. Taking the example even further, what if we were able to ensure that not only did the system work as planned, but it was fast enough, or processes streamlined, to allow the user to get twice as much done in the same amount of time. Now you have ADDED 100,000 dollars of value to the company. Now this is all theoretical (but let’s be honest, these management conversations often are theoretical, based on projections, SWAGs, etc.), but this is the mindset IT and EUC administrators need to get in to improve their service. Let’s say you notice that your environment is running at 75% load. An investment of 500,000 dollars would take the system down to 50% utilization and allow tooling that increases user efficiency by 25%. If we do the math, if we have 20 users in our environment, we break even (20 x 25,000 extra value to the company). Any users over 20 we make money by making the 500,000-dollar investment.
Now let’s take it to a non-monetary discussion and think of it regarding competitive advantage. You might wonder how a company’s EUC solution can be a competitive advantage, but having contracted for several companies, I’ve gone through onboarding several times. When the end user solutions are well architected, and the processes are easy, I could be up and functional for a customer day one. Others I have had to sit idle for days while requests get approved, resources were provisioned, and then access information was communicated. Inevitably something was missed, and the process would repeat. Now if the company can automate the process and allow for end user self-service, now they have a competitive advantage. Not only are they getting their employees up to speed and productive faster, but the employees will notice and tell others. This will allow the business to retain top talent (which is cheaper than replacing) and when the company does go to find talent, the top producers are going to be attracted. Producers want to produce quickly, they don't like sitting idle. This is the competitive advantage.
In conclusion, cost is absolutely something that must be considered. But a more wholistic view of cost needs to be developed and reviewed. Costs are inevitable, but the value offset is important to consider as well. If you can’t offset the cost, then the real problem might be that you are working on the wrong thing. EUC solutions are the intersection of human resources and IT resources. They need to work together and complement each other in order to maximize value and ultimately minimize cost.
All views expressed are those of Benjamin Crill and him alone.