Personas for business software – a gimmick or sustainable added value?

“Personas are just start-up knick-knacks, and for business software just a gimmick!” I’m sure many product developers have heard this before. I certainly have. But what is the truth behind the criticism that personas offer relevant added value for consumer products and are just creative add-ons for business software?

What are personas anyway?

Personas are fictitious people who represent typical representatives of a specific target group. They give product developers, customers and stakeholders an idea of who uses the product. In addition to a photo and name, personas typically include information on age, profession, free-time activities, family status and curriculum vitae, as well as typical needs and fears.

Personas in the context of business software

However, how do I deal with this as a product developer when my target group is primarily not people with individual needs and ideas, but with concrete professional challenges? For example, whether digital asset manager Diana Asmussen likes to play computers in her free time or go on vacation with her dogs is of no interest to product development. Diana steps into the spotlight with her professional needs as a digital asset manager and her requirements for an IoT system. When designing business software, employees should be addressed who want to complete their tasks efficiently and act in their roles and company processes.

CONTACT’s Personas

We at CONTACT therefore decided to create personas based on their roles and associated tasks within a fictitious company. We obtained input from our internal subject matter experts and customer interviews. Each persona has a task description and information on how to use CONTACT Elements.

Exemplary representation of the personas and team memberships of a fictitious customer

To be more specific, this means…

The holistic view of user needs provides valuable added value for product development – from knowledge building to quality assurance.

Personas make users more tangible and help new and long-standing product developers to get to know our target groups better.

By answering questions like: Who works with the 3D Cockpit? What does a user do in variant management? Or with whom does a CAE engineer interact? they know exactly for whom they are developing and can serve requirements in a more targeted manner. As sample users in concepts, demos and review systems, including all the rights they would have in a real environment, personas also ensure that work during development and quality assurance is user-centric.

But personas also have a high added value outside of product development. In presentations and in consulting, we use them to vividly depict scenarios, to build up understanding, and for identification.

So my answer to the initial question of whether personas are a gimmick or offer sustainable added value is clear: Personas are a central element in developing the best possible software for the user. They clarify needs, help to prioritize requirements, and promote a sustainable build-up of knowledge about the target groups company-wide.

Developer Experience – from intuitive to complex

It sounds like an exciting vision of the future: users from every discipline can use ready-made program modules to quickly and easily create simulations, optimization tasks or analyses using artificial intelligence (AI). This can then also be implemented by departments whose employees do not have knowledge of a high-level programming language. That’s the idea. Of course, developers must first create these program modules so business users can assemble a solution that meets their requirements.

AI-powered analytics for the business department

Together with our partners, we are researching in the AI marketplace project to get closer to this vision. The name-giving goal is to develop AI applications in the field of the product development process and offer them on a central trading platform. The range will also include services such as seminars on selected AI topics or contract development as well as ready-made AI-supported apps and program blocks for very specific tasks. The development and reuse of the apps are currently being tested. The project team is evaluating the benefits and quality of the results at the same time.

Different programming levels for extended use

So that’ s the state of research, but how exactly do we at CONTACT support the development of reusable program modules, the integration of simulation models or AI-supported analysis methods? One example of practical application can be found in the area of predictive maintenance. Predictive maintenance means that maintenance periods do not take place at fixed intervals as before, but are calculated depending on operating data and events at the machine or plant. For such use cases, our Elements for IoT platform provides a solution to analyze operating data directly. The digital twin stores the data of the machine or plant in a unique context. This data can be directly retrieved and easily analyzed using block-based programming. With the no-code functionality of the IoT platform, departments can intuitively create digital twins, define automatic rules and monitor events, and create diagrams and dashboards – without writing a line of code.

In addition, there are applications around the Digital Twin that require more programming expertise. For this, the platform offers analysts the possibility to develop their models themselves in a higher programming language using a Jupyter Notebook or other analysis tools. Especially in the area of prototyping, Python is the language of choice. However, it is also possible to work with a compiler-based programming language such as C++. Continuous calculation of the predictions is then done by automating the models, which are available in a runtime environment. The code is executed either in the company’s own IT infrastructure or directly at the plant or machine in the field (edge).

We call this procedure low-code development, because only the code for developing the models is written. The data connection is made via the Digital Twin and is done configurationally. The piece of program code can then be reused as a program block for various applications, such as digital twins within a fleet.

CONTACT Elements for IoT is thus open to interactions at different levels: from the use of predefined building blocks (no-code), to the possibility of interacting with self-written program code (low-code), to the definition of own business objects and the extension of the platform based on Python.

Digital accessibility for everyone

Modern software should be without barriers. But what kind of barriers can software have and for whom? And how can software companies eliminate them? The general understanding of accessible software mostly refers to the fact that people with disabilities or other physical limitations can use it well. For example, software designed in this way reduces the risk of confusion between color representations on the monitor in the case of red-green vision impairment, or makes it easier for people with Parkinson’s disease to use the mouse. This is an important requirement that modern software should fulfill.

Thinking the approach that all users should not have any barriers in the way of operation consistently further, it quickly becomes apparent that everyone experiences limitations to a greater or lesser extent when using a computer. For example, even for users with normal vision, elements of the program interface can be difficult to recognize on a bad screen, the environment can be too noisy to concentrate, or the mouse cannot be operated due to a current hand injury. Accessibility therefore addresses everyone!

Accessibility as a standard

For consumer software, reducing or eliminating operating barriers has long been standard practice. For example, I can increase the font size on my iPhone or have texts read aloud to me. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) were established early on for the World Wide Web. As an international standard, they provide developers with guidelines for making websites accessible to as many people as possible. They have become the de facto standard for accessible user experiences and are even referenced in legislation on equality for people with disabilities.

Remove barriers – release forces

For me, following these standards does not only mean fulfilling my responsibility as a product designer. It also simply means a guaranteed improvement in product quality – for all users. After all, it’s not just users with special visual impairments who benefit from high-contrast displays or keyboard controls, to name just two examples. Entrepreneur and accessibility advocate Debrah Ruh put it succinctly: “Accessibility allows us to tap into everyone’s potential.” I think that fits perfectly with our claim at CONTACT: Energizing great minds.