Joe Rotella: Usability Is His Forte

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When visitors show up at the Columbus, Ohio, offices of Delphia Consulting, they get more than just a parking space. They get a reserved parking space with their name on it. That's because Joe Rotella is relentless in cultivating a good experience for clients and prospects of Delphia Consulting.

He advises others to follow his tactic of Googling the name "Delphia Consulting" and reading every single link found on the search. That is because many of the negative comments are on the lowest ranking pages. He once used this methodology to track down a dissatisfied customer and then sent a note asking, "How can we make it right?"

So that's not technology. But then again, Rotella, as his boss Brian Delphia says, is one of a kind. Rotella, who is both chief technical officer and director of operations for the Columbus, Ohio-based human resource software reseller, works to make technology friendly by putting himself in the user's shoes. Or more appropriately, at the user's workstation.

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Being able to look at the task from the user's standpoint has helped Rotella generate more than $400,000 in revenue in 2005 through the unusually named Useability Practice, which is Rotella's direct responsibility. Overall, Delphia has about $4 million in annual revenue, split between Sage Software's Abra HR line and Delphia's own HR Action, a Web-based employee change status form.

In September 2002, Rotella joined Delphia Consulting with no job title or job description, but with a charter to focus on user needs.

That charter has been carried out through projects such as the firm's redesign of the City of Las Vegas' Web site, which was formerly organized along the city's departmental lines. But that's not how people relate to a city, says Rotella. They know they want a building permit, but may not know which department to contact. The system not only frustrated users, it cost the city money.

Now, the Las Vegas Web site has a box on the left side of the home page that says "I want to ..." followed by a number of selections that include apply for, check status of, request help with, and schedule, that lead residents to the right department.

Rotella says Delphia approaches usability in terms of scenarios.

"A scenario is a collection of features and how well they flow together," Rotella says. "The bigger picture is what is the end users' goal and how it flows through the solution or the product you are providing."

The company has five guidelines that define usability as meaning technology is easy to learn, easy to remember, efficient to use, has or produces few errors, and is subjectively pleasing.

Rotella's background is based on both technology and human approaches. He received a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science, minoring in Industrial Psychology Management, when he graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1986. He spent 16 years at Lucent Technologies, where he was a Distinguished Member of Technical Staff at Bell Laboratories where he designed interfaces for Web-based products.

That set of skills helps meet the growing expectation of software users for ease of use in their software. "They don't expect to have to take a class, read a book or be trained,'' says Rotella. "They want to open a box and start using it.

The City of Las Vegas was pleased with the approach. It spent $250,000 for the Web site overhaul last summer and has since contracted with Delphia Consulting to take on other applications including its Geographical Information System, a mapping service, a project whose revenue potential is estimated at $150,000.

The firm has also been contacted by no less than eight other U.S. cities and counties seeking to improve their Web sites.

Riccardo A. Davis is Associate Editor of Accounting Technology and can be reached at riccardo.davis@sourcemedia.com.

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