The Challenge

By the summer of 2018, corporate entity management software giant Blueprint OneWorld had not spoken to its customers in almost a decade. While there were meandering lines of communications open via account teams, information about their needs, problems and feature requests almost never found its way onto the project roadmap or into new updates of the cloud platform. It was generally felt that talking to customers degenerated into a “moaning session”.

The current incarnation of the system dates to the late 90s, and in their own words the SaaS system “thinks it is a piece of windows software”. After acquisition by Diligent the previous year, they understood that while the software was used by some of the world’s biggest companies (74 of the FTSE 100, 104 of the FTSE 250 and 30 of the Fortune 100), it was extremely dated and needed revision from the ground up. So Webcredible were brought in to talk to customers and make a series of design recommendations. However, the more I investigated, the more I realised that there were much more profound problems that needed to be addressed, and what was needed was an entirely different approach.

Installing ourselves in a war-room overlooking Nelson’s column, we settled in to what would be a turbulent, but ultimately game-changing project.

View from the first day in the war-room in June 2018.

View from the first day in the war-room in June 2018.

Approach

Stakeholder Interviews

At the outset of this project we spoke to key staff to learn more about the nature of the software and its history. We learned that its rapid expansion in the early naughties was due to implementing new features over the course of a weekend to meet client needs, but while smart on a business level and ingenious on a technical level, the workarounds required to meet deadlines led to significant and accumulating technical debt.

However it fit series of needs in corporate governance. Customers are paying for “peace of mind” that their data - used in financial auditing and shares allocation - is the “golden source of truth”. This was mostly exported as various types of reports and group structure charts. However since the 2008 financial crash, the system needed to conform to more and more regulations in more and more jurisdictions, leading to more and more requests for customisations and features which appeared to fall on deaf ears. Frustrated, it was known that a number of large customers had decided to go their own way, and develop it themselves, but the nature of these changes remained unknown.

This of course made rolling out updates extremely troublesome and often breaking the customisations they had created and eventually resulted in the estranged relationship.


Customer Interviews

The second phase of research was to talk to over 26 corporate secretaries spread over three continents, including Vodafone, Bank of America, State Street, Standard Chartered, Rio Tinto, the BBC, Santander and BP. Amongst other things, we intended to discover:

  • The most common daily tasks that they performed

  • Primary workflows - where does the information originate, and what happens to information once it leaves the system?

  • To what extent have they customised their installations and what is the nature and extent of these changes

  • What other systems do they desire BluePrint OneWorld be integrated with?

While sometimes frosty to begin with, these interviews proved enormously informative once we had established a rapport. Customers did indeed use us as a vent for their ongoing frustrations, but by actively listening to them we started to see patterns related to industry, location and the number of jurisdictions intersected and how these intersected and were confounded by a cluster of sometimes basic usability issues. These issues were frustrated again with a slow and aged technical architecture, combined with tight IT infrastructure rules as well as bandwidth issues, particularly for global companies operating out of developing nations.

We also learned that the system was so complex - a product of its meandering and ad-hoc development - that administrators were afraid of letting people add or edit data for fear it would compromise it, and thus became human bottlenecks. Those who used the system irregularly were particularly effected, often adding wrong information or information in the wrong place just to get the ordeal over with. Others took to making their own hand-written user guides, finding the supplied manuals too sprawling and out of date to be useful. Failure to account for different terminology in different jurisdictions also led to information being incorrectly added.

In the end, we concluded that basic usability issues, when multiplied with localisation and performance issues, conspired to undermine the software’s key selling point - data integrity. Indeed some customers - those who had broken away by customising their own systems - had developed extensive new suites of tools precisely to fix known data integrity issues. Even more fundamental functions, such as extracting information in the form of group structure charts and reports was a source of profound and ongoing frustration, the former being so broken that nobody we spoke to actually used it.


Journey Map

By the end of the interview we had over ten thousand words of written notes, and decided to use the war room to print out and manually organise the findings. We structured these into three primary domains, entering, maintaining, and exporting information, and added subcategories of findings within each of these.


Jobs to be Done

Originally, we had thought that our deliverables would include customer personas and a list of recommendations on what sort of tools and features could be developed for the next generation system to assist with workflows. Instead we found that customers had no interest in new features or even aesthetic overhauls until more fundamental issues had been addressed.

So, we recommended instead a Jobs to be Done follow-up survey to identify in a more systematic manner where the most under-served existing features are. While previous surveys had garnered only a few responses, this had a significant uptake and helped us quantify our qualitative findings, particularly around group structure charts.

Each of the outcome statements were then mapped both to both a spreadsheet of related usability issues we discovered during the research, as well as an internal metric of called the four pillars which they saw as fundamental to the success of the system. This way, they had an ongoing method to track success of the system using well known internal terminology.


UX Maturity Strategy

At the outset of the project our consultants we had estimated that a design library would be one of the outcomes of the project. However with a good design team already in house we assessed that it was not so much that design that was lacking but appreciation of user needs more fundamentally, and how they changed between industry, country and scale. Therefore we recommended instead the establishment of an ongoing user steering group to engage with on the finer details of their needs and to be part of iterative, ongoing development of the next generation system.

We also authored a Customer Engagement Toolkit that contained advice on how do develop their Internal UX Maturity, guides on how to run customer workshops and conduct their own user research in the future, including schematics for user research labs and template discussion guides. We developed a customised roadmap and flowchart of how to identify user needs, find relevant testing participants, and how to go about developing, iterating and validating design hypotheses.

Furthermore, we also developed a measurement framework to identify what analytics could be collected that could remain anonymised (The data is of course highly confidential).

My original plan for the roadmap

Finished design by Kiri Martin



Outcome

Despite its controversial nature, this research project was a success, enjoyed extremely positive feedback from senior stakeholders, and changed the development direction of the new generation of BluePrint OneWorld. Presently we are getting prepared to launch a follow-up international research project to delve into the specific problems surrounding the group structure tools.