It looks like you’re managing a system. Would you like help?

One of the most demanding problems in software development is designing a single interface to suit all users, from the unversed newbie to the seasoned veteran.  For example, the interface for Microsoft Word has to accommodate all users, from a child writing their first word processed letter to Santa to someone who frets about the difference between an em dash and an en dash.

This is something which Word accomplishes well, despite some unsuccessful attempts to shortcut this problem, but other companies, without the resources or range of Microsoft fail significantly in this task, while thesolution in the open source community is often to simply ignore beginner users completely, either hiding all options from the user or displaying every single one.

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Sometimes it seems that a lot of the Tivoli Interfaces were also created with the sole concern of presenting all the functionality available without much thought given to the difference kinds of users who would be using the product and what information they would like to see.

With such tools the only way to provide operators or system owners with a systems management interface is to take the interface designed for administrators who need access to the whole product and switch off the parts these other users don’t need.  What is left is usually clumsy, still requiring a lot of navigation to move between the parts that are still visible, with the removed functions often taking information that would be useful to the user along with them.  This problem is then compounded when your chosen management tools all have different interfaces, which can happen even when they are all supplied from a single vendor.

The usual result of this situation is that users feel both patronised and frustrated by the tools presented to them and end up relying on the systems management administrators to perform tasks that they could and should be performing themselves.

This approach of a single configurable interface ignores a key difference between systems management tools (and other line of business applications) and software that can be used more widely.  Whilst the interface for an application such as Word or Photoshop has to guide the user on their climb up what may be a long learning curve, the interface for a systems management tool has to provide different things to different people whose requirements won’t change.  The users who don’t require all the detailed configuration options are not novices who will one day become skilled enough use all the available options, but rather they are experts at a different set of tasks which the standard interface doesn’t cater very well for.

The obvious solution then is to give these users an interface that has been designed with them in mind and so reflects that they are people with different tasks to perform rather than novices who need to be protected from themselves.  Whilst such interfaces can be developed in-house, they can be expensive to maintain and they also re-enforce the feeling of end-users that the systems management team regard them as second-class citizens not deserving of a quality tool.

This is why the Self-Service Portal is so rewarding to work on.  It offers a genuinely first class solution to this ubiquitous problem.  It has been designed from the beginning with end users’ concerns in mind, meaning that it presents both the tools and information they need with a minimum of fuss.

SSP Screenshot

Author:

Dave Webb