20 March 2006

Usability can't do it all

Next week the government will be launching a four-phase campaign to encourage people to use e-government services. A commercial consultancy Nomensa has been commissioned to provide usability training and consultancy support for local government departments developing on-line services. Nomensa is already sounding alarms in today's e-government bulletin that e-government will fail if services aren't easy to use or don't work well the first time. Nomensa's point is amplified in an essay written by Don Norman in 2004, Usability is Not a Luxury. His point is that it costs far more to attract people to a site than it costs to ensure that those who use the site have a successful transaction. Hence usability is not a luxury.

From personal experience I'd suggest an additional factor that could undermine government e-services: slow response from the departments behind the interface. I recently lodged an on-line query with my local council, received a reference number, but no other response. A few weeks later, seeing no other way of making contact, I phoned to follow up the enquiry. I sat in a phone queue for some time but eventually got a real person who reassured me that my query was being dealt with. Next time I'll wonder whether it's worth using the on-line channel at all. So it would be great if the front-of-house efficiencies of e-services were ploughed into more support in the back office.

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