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Visualize first, build later: Advantage of simulation tools

Esther Shein | June 29, 2010
Business analysts can make sure they're getting users' requirements right before handing over the project to development

UPS's new application, an international operations processing system used to clear shipments from country to country, has been reviewed several times. People have been able to see all of the visual parts, including screens, links, how they would navigate through the pages and the actual look and feel, says Baldassari.

Once users input their comments into iRise, his group gathers the feedback, consolidates it and reworks the design before sending out another round of screenshots for viewing. "It allows us to iterate very quickly and get feedback and comments and, if needed, a Round 3. By the time we've done that, we're pretty confident we have very good buy-in from all the users," says Baldassari. "We finalize that with IT, and it saves time in the development cycle."

The system is going out in 12 phases, most of which have user interfaces. There will be two to three reviews per phase, Hilbush says. The project started early in 2010 and the first phase will go live in the third quarter of this year. The second phase will go live in the fourth quarter of this year.

The key message members of the project team gleaned was that in some cases, there were steps on the dashboards that would have challenged users "and made it difficult to fit into their business processes," says Hilbush. The goal of the dashboards is to give the business user a quick view into the performance of their operations, including trending graphs on the handling, sorting and movement/transporting of packages.

UPS uses iRise as part of the requirements-gathering process both for systems that will be used inside the company and for applications that UPS customers use via the Web. It works well on just about any type of system that has user interface, he says, and in 2009 it was used on 43 projects out of 47 that were identified as potential candidates for iRise. "Our philosophy is if you have a Web application or a Windows app -- or any app with a user interface -- you've got to have a pretty compelling reason why you wouldn't use visualization on that project," says Hilbush.

While he wouldn't give specifics on the cost of implementing iRise, Hilbush says UPS has seen a return on its investment in the software because it reduced the number of changes generated during the project life cycle and it reduced the number of defects later on in development.

A product like iRise doesn't replace the usual functional requirements-gathering and other traditional steps that happen during the development cycle, Hilbush adds.

Lessons learned: Use it or lose it

At the MD Anderson Cancer Center, officials had been using iRise to develop an electronic medical records (EMR) system called Clinic Station. And now the hospital has begun using the iRise tool within various departments to create better workflow on other processes and to allow staffers to spend more time working with patients.


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