From developer to UX-er (sort of)
“I firmly believe there is no point rolling out technology without engaging the users both prior and post rollout. Change and user impact needs to be part of any technology conversation.” Gavin Haak is one of LAB3’s Modern Workplace Principal Architects. We follow his story from developer to a mix of modern workplace specialist underpinned by UX principles. Today, he focuses on covering end-to-end needs for workplace and transformation projects across teams, user adoption, organisational strategy, security and governance of platforms and solutions.
The move from technical to user-centric
I’m Gavin, a Modern Workplace Principal Architect at LAB3. I started out as many do with a technical, programming background—what you’d expect, building custom solutions for clients and spending most of my day staring at Visual Studio. But there was a clear turning point a few years in when I was working as a SharePoint expert on a large enterprise project.
That’s where I got a taste for how important the user experience was to adoption success—if it’s not easy to use people won’t use it. Period. Often they’ll use an unsecure, shadow-IT workaround instead.
We put a lot of time and effort into making the new way of working user friendly. It wasn’t a new concept, everyone knows Apple built their success on simple and elegant user experience, but it was certainly a new mindset that needed to be adopted.
I moved towards making that my focus, making the user experience enjoyable while still outcome driven for the business. I spend most of my time influencing senior stakeholders around digital workplace and transformation using the Microsoft 365 stack—basically making sure people actually like the tools they have to use every day, with the technical requirements like security and compliance taken care of seamlessly in the background.
Some of the most common challenges I see
Unsuitable implementation of day-to-day tech
Users (rightly so) get frustrated if things don’t work, and this does come down to tech implementation a lot of the time, not the technology itself. A tool like Microsoft Teams, for example, affects people daily. Many companies adopted it quickly in response to COVID to enable users to work from home… But is it governed properly? Do users know how to get assistance and support? How secure is the data stored in Teams – is it protected? Can employees log on quickly and easily? Is it integrated with all the other tools they use? I’ve seen firsthand where things go wrong, which is why we put so much work into proper implementation and maximising what you can get out of the technology.
Security vs UX
Security can be a big and competing challenge when it comes to user experience—but it doesn’t have to be. We just went through the process of helping one of the largest infrastructure companies in Australia overcome their security challenges. It started as an Office 365 issue, they had switched on the lights but hadn’t really focused enough on the detailed security and governance process and controls they had available to them as part of their Microsoft 365 licensing. We assisted and remediated security with a 6- to 18-month strategy, which is already starting to show results—it was a daunting project but now the platform is secure and compliant without compromising workplace usability. We can now just focus on helping them grow.
Complicated access management
Identity and access management can be another hot button topic. One of our trickiest projects at LAB3 to date has been a client who needed to enable external customers to login and authenticate with their systems to work on projects. There were a lot of moving pieces to get to one single identity across these disparate systems, and since there haven’t been many Azure AD B2C directory implementations of this nature in Australia, we were doing a lot of firsts. But we managed to deliver a successful outcome, giving the clients’ customers a simple and secure authentication path, enabling an excellent user experience.
Some easy ways to help keep the user connection
Discover more up front
What I’ve seen with LAB3 is that often the more highly regulated or the larger an organisation is, the less they speak to users. To handle issues up front, we now kick off certain projects by helping our customers reach out to users and understand what is going on. Through workshops and surveys, we find out both pain points and what people like, what they want to keep. It helps us not only map out success criteria from IT to receptionists to CEOs, but also be upfront in terms of what success means for a project from the different user perspectives.
Continuous communication is the new norm
Another key focus is communication with the project team and the wider organisation. You can implement simple ways of letting everyone know what’s going on, for example, an email template to all users to inform what is going to be turned on/off and when. Yammer is also a very effective tool to communicate change across the whole org and get feedback on the change.
Personally, we use Microsoft Forms to help us gather feedback from inside and outside the organisation, for example, for the recent WVD (Windows Virtual Desktop) implementations we’ve completed, surveys have helped us discover what people need access to urgently and what they are struggling with the most working from home so we can target our efforts to the specific needs of different users.
This may seem obvious, but in our experience, it isn’t always a given. For best project management and delivery, we always setup a collaborative space with the customer’s project team, either on Teams or their existing collaboration suite. Feeling like one team is paramount for efficiency in my opinion. It also helps share progress with customers properly, so they can see a solution as it’s being built. Being part of the solution the whole way through ensures everyone is on the same page and means we can be more adaptable too.
No pain, no gain
Successful tech rollout comes down to putting in the effort. A lot of my experience is with large enterprise clients across Australia and New Zealand like Ausnet Services, ANZ, CBA and RACV, as well as global organisations such as Coca-Cola Amatil, Toyota and QBE. Especially with large organisations, even if it might take a bit more effort, I firmly believe there is no point rolling out technology without engaging the users both prior and post rollout. Change and user impact needs to be part of any technology conversation to make it successful.