The benefits of focusing on the Digital User Experience
"We tend to focus on technology, and so the soft touchy feely becomes secondary. We need to switch that around. We need to start thinking always about how the customers are going to use whatever we provide and then start designing to that." - Lakshmi Ashok
Far too often, organizations put tech first and user experience second. In doing so they build a digital foundation that will steer away users and inevitably lead to patchwork fixes down the line. Lakshmi Ashok is the Vice President of Enterprise Service Management at Leidos. She joins to tell us why focus on DUX is so crucial, where businesses are getting things wrong, and the approaches to take to get it right.
On today's podcast:
- What DUX is and why it matters
- Why building out a good DUX early is cost effective
- How Leidos is applying their own recommendations
Lakshmi Ashok: We tend to focus on technology, and so the soft, touchy-feely stuff comes secondary and we need to switch that around. We need to start thinking always about how the customers are going to use whatever we provide and then start designing to that.
Shaunté Newby: Digital User Experience or DUX is exactly what it sounds like. It's the overall experience that a user has in the digital space. Good DUX is a vital but often overlooked part of a business. Aside from just user satisfaction, a business or organization stands to gain a lot from focusing on it.
Lakshmi Ashok: I would say DUX number one key there is customer satisfaction and adoption, and that itself leads to other things like cost effectiveness, scalability, and security.
Shaunté Newby: Lakshmi Ashok is the vice president of Enterprise Service Management at Leidos. She joins us to talk about what DUX is, why it's important, how to approach it, and a lot more. My name is Shaunté Newby. This is MindSET, a podcast by Leidos. In this series, our goal is to have you walk away from every episode with a new understanding of the complex and fascinating technological advancement going on at Leidos. From space IT, to trusted AI, to threat-informed cybersecurity, we've got a lot going on, and we're excited to share it with you. So tell me, Lakshmi, what do you do at Leidos?
Lakshmi Ashok: I help align our investments and technology to customer requirements. As such, I work on packaging all our cool capabilities into consistent and scalable solutions that are easily procurable and consumable by our customers, and also support insertion of these innovative technologies into programs so that we can enhance our customer mission.
Shaunté Newby: So Digital User Experience feels like a term that can refer to a lot of things. Can you explain what it means at the core of the term?
Lakshmi Ashok: You're right. [chuckle] It does mean different things to different audiences. In general, you can interpret it as experience folks have with digital tools, it refers to design elements of a user interface, it could also be efficiency of use of an application or how well the application integrates into other components of a user's workflow. So in my mind, DUX, Digital User Experience, is not a single tool, process or design. In reality, it is how all these things come together, that is, an ecosystem of technologies, processes, and policy choices to either impact or influence a customer's experience.
Shaunté Newby: If I were to simply say DUX refers to everything that makes up my experience as a user, would that be correct?
Lakshmi Ashok: Yes, so DUX for us is disciplined, science-based approach we use to implement technical solutions that really enhance User Experience in measurable ways while considering unique customer requirements for privacy, security, accessibility that go beyond commercial tools. So absolutely, you're correct.
Shaunté Newby: I'm thinking about the Digital User Experience and maybe some of what the user may experience as pain points [laughter] versus what's a great User Experience. I thought about security and how we used to have multiple ways that we had to prove to a system that we are who we are. Would that be kind of entailed in the User Experience as well?
Lakshmi Ashok: Absolutely. It includes how intuitive that application is. While being intuitive, how secure it is both from a user perspective and a business perspective because you don't want to have an application that is easy to use but is not secure. So these are some of the things that go into the making of a User Experience.
Shaunté Newby: How does an organization go about creating an effective DUX?
Lakshmi Ashok: I'll start with a quote from Steve Jobs. And he says, "You've got to start with the customer experience and work backwards towards the technology, not the other way around." So we go about creating a good DUX by getting involved early. This means do your user research. So do your user interview, see what they really want, figure out what kind of different personas are there because an application may be used by different personas who have different needs, create a journey map for each persona, and figure out those points of friction that need to be removed, design, do your design, create wireframes, seek approval, do demos earlier on than later so that we can make those fine tune changes, and then review iteratively, that's what I was just talking about.
Lakshmi Ashok: The other thing for me especially in today's environment, is you incorporate a multi-experience strategy in the roadmap because gone are the days where folks just look at an application from a laptop, for example. So sometimes I render it from my mobile, maybe a chatbot would be helpful. So when we design an application, when we design the User Experience, think multi-channel. And then for me, create a framework with the recommended methodology, design patterns and tools that can be leveraged. Define that earlier on in the game. And the one critical thing, I mentioned it earlier, but I will stress it again, is measure the User Experience frequently with the goal of impacting their experience in a positive manner. So these are some of the things we can do, we can go about... Or we can do to go about creating an effective Digital User Experience.
Shaunté Newby: What about accessibility?
Lakshmi Ashok: Yes, I'm glad you went there because, for Leidos, it's not just a legal mandate, but we believe in making all things equal, and providing equal access to everyone. So from an accessibility point of view, there already exists some 508 automated testing tools, but we do want to be able to build in good User Experience and start automating the build of those 508 compliant screens within our whole UX domain.
S3: Another satisfied customer.
Shaunté Newby: For any business, hopefully the customer's use of the service and interactions with the company should be a top priority. The customer experience can make or break the relationship. A positive experience is crucial for continued business and for the possibility of being recommended in that customer's network. But the benefits of DUX don't end there. I asked Lakshmi to talk more about why focusing on Digital User Experience matters.
Lakshmi Ashok: Yeah, I'll start off with an example there. So I have a friend who visits a diner and he loves that diner. He goes there on a weekly basis, loves the food, and takes his family along. They all love it. Recently, I was chatting to him, I think a couple of weeks ago, and he related something to me. He said, "You know, I went to this diner again, and they've changed the way we order, so they have these kiosks now, and I headed to a kiosk to place my order, it was impossible to get what I wanted to order. Not only could I do it right, I couldn't add things to it, it kept coming out on different bills, and I don't think I'll go there anymore." So you see how important the User Experience is. The diner lost a loyal customer, simply because the customer did not like the experience for ordering the food that he liked, and he and his family liked. Adoption of our service or an application is critical, and this is only adopted when the customer is satisfied. So I would say the UX, number one key there is customer satisfaction and adoption, and that itself leads to other things, like cost effectiveness, scalability and security.
Shaunté Newby: So that diner example actually made me think of, these days, when you go to the fuel pump. [chuckle] I don't wanna go inside. So if that credit card machine doesn't work on the outside and there's like, see the cashier, I am pulling off, so they have lost a customer, I'm not sure if I will return. But that experience is very similar to the diner one, is like it's not working the way I remembered and the way I want it to work, I don't wanna go inside. [laughter]
Lakshmi Ashok: So you see the... You have to start always with the client in your mind.
Shaunté Newby: Alright. So it's interesting though, because really at the heart of this, you're creating an experience that your customers actually want, as you mentioned. Once that's built out, does that create ease of process for both ends of the interaction, both business and customer?
Lakshmi Ashok: Yes, it truly does. So from a customer perspective, it becomes easy to use, it's almost intuitive, so that we have happy customers, which fosters adoption of the service. And from a business perspective, for me, it provides scalability. Once I've got my DUX patterns right, I'm gonna leverage them. It provides security. I know that the customer is not going to go off and do one-off solutions because my framework works, so it's secure, and then cost efficiency because we don't have to re-work anything that we do in bits and pieces, if the customer is happy with what we've done. So we've created this overarching framework with established design patterns, libraries and methods to integrate into human-centric design. I think it's a win-win for both the business and the customer.
Shaunté Newby: Right. You mentioned with a good DUX, its cost-effective, 'cause one of the reasons why is you don't have to do any rework, just reuse. Are there any other reasons you believe that it's cost-effective?
Lakshmi Ashok: Yeah, yeah. So for me, if we get these DUX principles right at the beginning, we end up creating all these templates, design patterns, framework, methodology that can be leveraged. The other thing is if we start layering automation with AIML for UX development, that increases the speed and hence cost efficiency further. So these are two or three ways by which DUX, a good DUX is cost-effective.
Shaunté Newby: Okay, and you mentioned Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence, so this is like an example of learning the user's patterns to help with that experience.
Lakshmi Ashok: Yes. Based off data that we've collected on user behavior, doing sentiment analysis. So you start to model what we think their behavior is going to be as we generate the next set of UX screens. Yeah.
Shaunté Newby: Alright, so let's talk about what Leidos is doing in this space. So how do you and your team at Leidos fit into all of this, and what are you doing to help businesses create an effective DUX?
Lakshmi Ashok: We focus on providing guidance on what DUX is, and we do with this via providing best practices, standard design patterns, extensible frameworks, explaining to programs what the importance and the value of DUX is for any given project, what it looks like. Going a step further to say, How do you hire a UX expert for a program, for example? What is it that you need to do? And then the other thing we do is to have easy engagement patterns with our existing UX teams at Leidos. So these are some of the things we do. Currently, Leidos provides DUX expertise to a wide spectrum of our customers, from national security missions to improving the more civilian processes, such as claims process. I'll give you two examples without naming the actual client. So our team has been highly successful in supporting the workforce to adopt and advance data search and analysis tool for a client. Through a variety of UX activities focused on user engagement and support, we've grown this one particular user base for this tool by 100% or more in a year. So that itself is admirable. And then the other example I wanna give is civilian engagement, where we're leveraging our expertise in Human-Centered AI or applying UX to AI-based tools to help gain trust, user trust in the AI and expedite their claims process. So these are areas in which we're helping the customers.
Shaunté Newby: And I'm gonna do like you. I won't name any of the clients, but I definitely can see some improvements in some of the User Experience in some of the government agency systems that civilians have to use, so I believe we can thank people like you and your team for those improvements.
Lakshmi Ashok: Much appreciated, yeah.
S3: I can't endorse a product unless I use the product.
Shaunté Newby: We've talked a lot so far about why Digital User Experience is such an important part of any business. That doesn't exclude Leidos. Lakshmi and her team are not only helping their clients improve DUX for their own customers, they are also using their own strategies to maximize the DUX for Leidos. By doing so, Leidos is continuously learning firsthand about what's changing, what's working and not working, and staying ahead of the curve. Having a product or service that you can implement on your own benefits everyone. Lakshmi told us a bit about some of the ways Leidos is improving its own DUX.
Lakshmi Ashok: We apply our DUX capabilities to help improve internal experiences. We're redesigning an area of our corporate Internet to improve the User Experience by making it more intuitive and streamlined for the user. A second area we're focusing on is our interactive voice recognition system, which prompts individuals for commands, and we're right now beginning UX audits, interviews, and usability tests to support improvements there. So these are a couple of examples on how we implement our DUX capabilities internally, we also have a center of excellence that shares resources and provides support to our many business areas on continued improvements across the Leidos enterprise.
Shaunté Newby: Awesome, so I imagine over time, that had to include giving folks the ability to do some services via a mobile device, right?
Lakshmi Ashok: Yeah, I mean to test it out. Absolutely. For our help desk, we have chatbots today, for example. In yet another customer location, we've started using things like HoloLens, and so these are all the different channels that we need to be cognizant of as we design User Experience.
Shaunté Newby: Let's talk about some of the challenges associated with this work. What are some of the main ones you face?
Lakshmi Ashok: Yeah, so from a procurement perspective, when we get RFPs from the government, for example, this is not the primary focus. And so from a budget perspective, people, the government generally doesn't specifically call out human-centric design or Digital User Experience, and so it gets difficult to scope in our response because we know that it is critical for customer adoption. The other thing is we tend to focus on technology, and so the soft, touchy-feely stuff comes secondary, and we need to switch that around, we need to start thinking always about how the customers are going to use whatever we provide and then start designing to that.
Lakshmi Ashok: And then for me, the third one is also very critical in that sometimes it's hard to get access to our customers, so it's hard to figure out how they'll use a certain application or a system, what the workflows are, what the personas are, in order to effectively design that User Experience. So these are some of the things that we face as challenges from our side, the business side.
Shaunté Newby: Do you feel, in your own experience, that it's easier to optimize or improve an existing system's User Experience or start from ground zero?
Lakshmi Ashok: It depends on how complex that current system is, it also depends on how good the User Experience is, what needs to be changed. If we're looking at the older applications, almost always, it's better to start fresh as we're digitally transforming. But if it's our newer systems, then we could probably get away with changing a few things and getting it right.
S3: I want what I want, and you know what I want.
Shaunté Newby: DUX means being really in tune with what the customer actually wants. It's not about assumptions, it's about learning from them and their behavior to create an experience that puts their ease of use first. Part of Lakshmi's work is to make sure her clients understand this and are ready to make that happen, but this can at times be challenging. I asked her to talk about some of the challenges that she faces.
Lakshmi Ashok: The primary thing that I see with customers, as with all of us, is resistance to change. We all have this level of change fatigue, and so if something's working, if it ain't broke, why fix it? This means I need to go learn a new tool or I need to go learn a new method to use my application. So that would be my primary challenge that we face. The second thing, in fact, even for customers, it's hard to put aside a budget because they need to be able to measure ROI on the new tools and processes to justify if DUX is valuable to them. So we've got to help them do that. And then the thing that is really... That we need to do to overcome this challenge is training. Training is such an important aspect, training the customer as to what DUX means when we put together a new interface, training them to use that new interface easily so that they adopt that change, stick to that change, is the one way I would say we can get across these challenges.
Lakshmi Ashok: The other main challenge is trust. So let's say we have all these AI stuff that we're implementing, all these automations that we're implementing, but without trust, the customer is not going to use all these new features. A way to solve this is we build out different options, we build out analytic heat maps based on user behavior to enhance user interactions, give them a whole bunch of possibilities and options, but also put a human in the middle to make the ultimate decision until they're satisfied that we're getting it right, the AI is getting it right. And finally, the next step is taking the human out of the decision making. So it's almost easing them gently into the change. These are some of the things we're doing to overcome the challenge.
Shaunté Newby: So earlier, you mentioned that you've been involved in this work for decades, so I know you have a huge appreciation for the evolution of where things were probably when you started, and where things are now. So what are some things you're looking forward to next? Like the things to come.
Lakshmi Ashok: Exciting things to come. Yes, so like I said, in the near-term, we're kind of focused on how we measure the impact of DUX, how do we leverage all these data we have for our users experience in a measurable way, and then what quantitative and qualitative metrics can we use to help choose solution paths with the most return for the effort invested. But then we're also looking at ways to leverage our advanced AIML capabilities to move the needle in the area of AI-Enhanced DUX, accessible, DUX, and experiences beyond just one screen.
Lakshmi Ashok: Today, we're working with AI-based approaches to reactive, proactive, and predictive capabilities. I'll give you examples of all three. So from a reactive perspective, what we're doing is using current user data to model as-is user behavior, and then using these models to make changes to see how the user behavior will be impacted. So for example, we're looking at current ticket data and make changes to the user based on that ticket data and see how the user reacts to something. Another example of doing this is looking at UX tools to detect deteriorating health of UX experiences and to auto-generate tickets, which is based of anomaly detection. So these two examples were more of a reactive nature using AI to react. But then let's move to the proactive side. So now that we've collected all these user data, knowing user preferences and performing sentiment analysis, let's take it to the next step, to go, alright, here are the friction areas that they've always complained about, so let's avoid this friction area. So that's being more proactive.
Lakshmi Ashok: And then the next step is moving to predictive, so based on everything I've talked about, thinking about, oh, okay, how do you think a user will adapt to new changes or in the workflow or new screens based on what we've seen so far, so these are things that we've started modeling, and we are definitely moving forward with this. One more thing that we're working on is enhanced trusted experience by increasing confidence factor from a user. So this is where we have folks train in a virtual environment because they cannot train in the real environment, but they complete training in a virtual environment, but now need to go address a problem in a real environment. So they have the need to trust what they've learned in the virtual environment implicitly, and that means we've got to get the User Experience just perfect for them, and so these are things, again, in an advanced User Experience feel that we're looking at.
Shaunté Newby: DUX is an integral part of every business. We've talked a lot about why it's important, the challenges in implementation, and how to go about it. Here are Lakshmi's final thoughts.
Lakshmi Ashok: I would urge folks to really believe in Digital User Experience, and I would once again echo the words of Steve Jobs saying, "Always start with the client in the mind and then build your technology around what they really want," because my passion is to make sure that we are fostering our client's mission with all these technologies.
Shaunté Newby: That, again, was Lakshmi Ashok, Vice President of Enterprise Service Management at Leidos. If you want to learn more, check out leidos.com/capabilities. Thanks again for joining this episode of MindSET, a podcast by Leidos. If you like this, and want to learn even more about the incredible tech sector work going on to push humanity forward, make sure you subscribe to the show. The new episodes will be live every two weeks. Also feel free to write and review. We're always excited to hear your thoughts on the show. My name is Shaunté Newby, I'll talk to you next time.