Sunday, July 11, 2010

ENMS User Interfaces...

Ever watch folks and how they use various applications? When you do some research around the science of Situation Awareness, you realize that human behavior in user interfaces is vital to understanding how to put information in front of users in ways that empowers the users inline with what they need.

In ENMS related systems, it is imperative that you present information in ways that empower users to understand situations and conditions beyond just a single node. While all of the wares vendors have been focused on delivering some sort of Root Cause Analysis, this may not be what is REALLY needed by the users. And dependent upon whether you are a Service Provider or an Enterprise, the rules may be different.

What I look for in applications and User Interfaces are ways to streamline the interaction versus being disruptive. If you are swapping a lot of screens, inherently look at your user. If they have to readjust their vision or posture, the UI is disrupting their flow.

For example, if the user is looking at an events display and they execute a function as part of the menu. This function produces a screen that overcomes the existing events display. If you watch your user, you will see them have to readjust to the screen change.

I feel like this is one of the primary reasons ticketing systems do not capture more real time data. It becomes too disruptive to keep changing screens so the user waits until later to update the ticket. Inherently, data is filtered and lost.

This has an effect on other processes. One is that if you are attempting to do BSM scorecards, ticket loading and resource management in near real time, you don’t have all of the data to complete your picture. In effect, situation awareness for management levels is skewed until the data is input.

The second effect to this is that if you’re doing continuous process improvement, especially with the incident and problem management aspects of ITIL, you miss critical data and time elements necessary to measure and improve upon.

Some folks have attempted to work around this by managing from ticket queues. So, you end up with one display of events and incoming situation elements and a second interface as the ticket interface. In order to try to make this even close to being effective, the tendency is to automatically generate tickets for every incoming event. Without doing a lot of intelligent correlation up front, automatic ticket generation can be very dangerous. Due diligence must be applied to each and every event that gets propagated or you may end up with false ticket generation or missed ticket opportunities.

Consider this as well. An Event Management system is capable of handling a couple thousand events pretty handily. A Ticketing system that handles 2000 ongoing tickets at one time changes the parameters of many ticketing systems.

Also, consider that in Remedy 7.5, the potential exists that each ticket may utilize 1GB or more of Database space. 2000 active tickets means you’re actively working across 2TB of drive / database space.

I like simple update utilities or popups that solicit information needed and move that information element back into the working Situation Awareness screen. For example, generating a ticket should be a simple screen to solicit data that is needed for the ticket that cannot be looked up directly or indirectly. Elements like ticket synopsis or symptom. Assignment to a queue or department. Changing status of a ticket.


Maps can be handy. But if you cannot overlay tools and status effectively or the map isn’t dynamic, it becomes more of a marketing display rather than a tool that you can use. This is even more prevalent when maps are not organized into hierarchies.

One of the main obstacles is the canvas. You can only place a certain amount of objects on a given screen. Some applications use scroll bars to enable you to get around. Others use a zoom in - zoom out capability where they scale the size of the icons and text according to the zoom. Others enable dragging the canvas. Another approach is to use a Hyperbolic display where analysis of detail is accomplished by establishing a moveable region under a higher level map akin to a magnifying glass over a desktop document.

3D displays get around the limitations of a small canvas a bit by using depth to position things in front or behind. However, 3D displays have to use techniques like LOD or Level of Details, or Fog to enable only more local objects are attended to, otherwise it has to render every object local and remote. This can be computationally intensive.

A couple of techniques I like in the 3D world are CAVE / Immersion displays and the concept of HUDs and Avatars. CAVE displays display your environment from several perspectives including top, bottom, front, left, right, and even behind. Movement is accomplished interacting with one screen and the other screens are synchronized to the main, frontal screen. This gives the user the effect of an immersive visual environment.

A HUD or heads up display enables you to present real time information directly in front of a user regardless of position or view.

The concept of an avatar is important in that if you have an avatar or user symbol, you can use that symbol to enable collaboration. In fact, your proximity to a given object may be used to help others collaborate and team up to solve problems.

Next week, I’ll discuss network layouts, transitioning, state and condition management, and morphing displays. Hopefully, in the coming weeks, I’ll take a shot at designing a hybrid, immersive 2D display that is true multiuser, and can be used as a solid tools and analysis visualization system.

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