When companies or organizations make large purchase decisions for software, they currently have little visibility into the usability of the products they are buying. However, the business case for software usability has been clearly established. Moreover, poor usability is an uncontrolled source of overhead, caused by the need for users to correct errors and continually re-learn complex user interfaces. Software that is measurably usable reduces errors, reduces training costs, reduces maintenance costs, while increasing user productivity and satisfaction.
From the software supplier's perspective, the pressure to bring software to market rapidly has adversely affected qualities such as usability. As dependence on shrink-wrapped software and Web-based applications increases so will the need for consumers to have information about software product usability before making large purchase decisions.
In 1996 we recognized the need to specify usability in the procurement process. We hosted three meetings under the title of "Usability Engineering in Government Symposia". These meetings helped us lay the groundwork for the IUSR project and in October of 1997, the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) initiated an effort to increase the visibility of software usability. Cooperating in this effort are prominent suppliers of software and representatives from large consumer organizations. The goals of the initiative are to:
- Reduce uncontrolled overhead costs of software usability problems, while improving user productivity and morale.
- Encourage software suppliers and consumer organizations to work together to understand user needs and tasks.
- Define and validate an industry-wide process for providing visibility of software usability to support product decision-making.
The role of NIST in this effort is to:
- Act as a facilitator in bringing together the supplier and consumer organizations.
- Maintain the documents drafted by these groups and support a public review cycle.
- Collect and analyze data to determine the value of incorporating usability into product decision-making.
- Developed a common usability reporting format for sharing usability data with consumer organizations
- Conducted pilot trials to determine how well the usability reporting format works and to determine the value of using this format in software procurement.
- December 12, 2001: ANSI approves ANSI/INCITS-354 Common Industry Format for Usability Test Reports
The Common Industry Format currently focuses on software usability and summative testing. We are looking into expanding the kinds of things that can be captured in the Format. For instance, user testing with novel hardware devices, formative methods,software requirements, and accessibility, to name a few.