Minimal IT logo and link to home page
Research, training, consultancy and software to reduce IT costs
Home | About | Newsletter | Contact
Previous | Next Printer friendly
17 January 2012

Universal business computer 5: Interaction

By Andrew Clifford

Versatile user interfaces are based around resources, rather than tasks, processes or data types.

In this series of newsletters I have been presenting some personal views on a more standardised and versatile IT design, which I call the universal business computer. The last part of the picture is to understand how users interact with the system.

I have no great insights into how to make systems more usable. But from a more general viewpoint you can classify user interfaces into four categories according to the relationship between the user and the system.

The first category is task-centric, in which the system provides the user all the features they need to complete a single task. For example, a graphics program has a task-centric user interface.

Providing the user what they need to complete the task is good. But many systems also need to control the wider process. The second category is process-centric. The user is presented with a task or series of steps they need to carry out as part of a process. There will be features to start and complete work, and submit to the next stage. For example, the payment processing on an eCommerce site is process-centric. You confirm your purchase, provide shipping details, enter payment details, and then confirm payment.

For more data-intensive activities, the third category is to structure the user interface around the different data types, which we could call data-centric. We are familiar with this from tools like Microsoft Access, and simple database applications. The user is presented with a list of all their data, and options to read details, create new records, update records and delete records.

As a refinement of the fourth category, resource-centric user interaction is structured around individual pieces of data or resources, rather than types of data. You navigate to the resource you want to interact with and then perform an action on it. A website is a good example of a resource-centric application; you navigate to the page you want to read.

The options are not mutually exclusive. A process-centric interaction can present the user with a rich task-focussed interface. A resource-centric interaction can provide a data-centric view by providing a resource which contains a list of all the data they can read. What we want as the basis for the universal business computer is the most versatile approach, which can support the others where required.

Of the four approaches, the resource-centric is the most versatile. It can support task-based interaction by attaching the features to complete the task to the resources that needs it. It can support a process-based interaction by exposing the process or tasks as resources. As well as being able to support the other interaction types, a resource-centric approach makes it easy to extend the system as new resources are added.

In my vision of the universal business computer, the underlying user interaction model is resource-centric, and the user's perception of the system is of a read-write website. Each piece of data is considered a resource and represented by a unique page, with rich support for individual tasks where required, and additional resources to support processes.

Next week I will summarise the universal business computer and consider how close we can come to implementing it.

Next: Universal business computer 6: Gaining value


To subscribe to the newlsetter, simply send an email to
Privacy policy

Subscribe to RSS feed

Latest newsletter:
Magical metadata

We use the term "metadata-driven" to describe IT solutions in which functionality is defined in data. Taking this to the extreme can provide unparalleled levels of speed, simplicity and versatility.
Read full newsletter

System governance

System governance helps you implement high-quality systems, manage existing systems proactively, and improve failing systems.

Try it for free!

Find out more