Users’ experiential knowledge is essential in system development

Olli Kuusisto

Make the most of users’ knowhow, experiences and ideas in system development. Remember also to take into account the possible needs to change operation models and data management.

From resistance to change to commitment to change – involve users in development

”I have always hated the concept of resistance to change. Under its guise, wise experiential interpretations about the disadvantages of change, either fundamentally or regarding the implementation, are blocked. Change is allowed to be challenged, too.”
wrote Eveliina Saari (@EveliinaSaari) on Twitter (in Finnish).

The tweet brings to mind how development projects are planned and implemented. Even if the technological features are specified well, ensuring the usability, understandability and user experience in all phases of planning and implementation is essential. User-driven co-creation starts by acknowledging that the operability of systems is always ultimately resolved in practice.

The aforementioned issues were at the centre of the user interviews in the two UPM use cases in the SEED ecosystem project: the more operation-oriented Next Generation Diary and the mainly maintenance-related 360 Degree Status Tool. Over 100 people from three pulp mills in Finland participated in the user interviews, from management to operators and maintenance workers, aiming at a wide and versatile overall picture from different viewpoints.

Systems may – besides the benefits – gradually build up to be time-consumers

French business management professor Michel Lebas stressed, already in 1993, that the core task of employees is to perform their work, not to make reports. Certainly, the world has changed since, but lately we have heard alarming news regarding digital transformation, e.g., in public healthcare, where it is reported that increasingly more time is spent with systems instead of patients.

Also, in the UPM use case interviews, it turned out that more time is spent in interactions with various systems whose use logics may vary from one to another, and which include partly the same information in different formats. Merely signing in and out of different systems takes its time.

Lots of development ideas, including systems and system architecture in general

In the user interviews, the need for a role-specific and personalisable home screen with core systems were expressed, along with visuality regarding the user interface. Communication between different systems and wide (re)use of the same data in different systems were pointed out to be essential, as well as the usability of the systems, e.g., that they could guide the users to record things that are sought after.

Based on the interviews, potential technologies were tentatively identified, in addition to artificial intelligence (AI), e.g., 3D-, XR-, as well as speech recognition and language technologies. This requires at least partial harmonisation of operation procedures and data structures and/or the use of artificial intelligence in order to understand and identify relevant information from the informal data.

Both technology and ways of working could be developed

Traditionally, the diary has served as a note¬book for communication between shifts. It has long ago been converted into electronic format, making it possible to get a snapshot in both short and long term. With the help of the collected information, it is possible to monitor, control and manage activities better than before. However, this would benefit from more consistent and content-rich diary entries, e.g., speech, photos and videos in addition to text. The interviews also revealed that there were differences in the ways of working between the factories. Harmonising operation and conventions where it is suitable in addition to the above-mentioned guidance in diary entries would thus help data analysis and assist mutual learning.

360 degree tool – all available information and expertise at hand in a user-friendly format

The 360 degree tool is a future maintenance tool that, according to interviews, at best combines all existing maintenance-related information in a user-friendly format (text, speech, image/diagram, video) via appropriate mobile devices (e.g. PC, mobile phone, tablet or smart glasses/visor) – utilising e.g., XR technologies and a real-time connection with an expert when needed. The interviews highlighted the particular need for access and interoperability of many different systems. Regarding maintenance, especially during shutdowns, a tool for management and monitoring the progress of work for dozens of actors operating in the field would also be of great help.

Users’ experiences benefit the development project – in many ways

One of the best ways to find out where the resistance to change might have its roots is through user engagement. If there are bad past experiences with digitalisation, in terms of guidance, features, interoperability or operating models for using them, it is essential to improve them. In the UPM use case interviews, altogether over 100 user needs and almost 50 product features were identified and tentatively prioritised. If a majority of these can be taken into account and implemented, this is a very good starting point for achieving commitment to change. As long as you still remember to ask for feedback also during the development process and actual use.


Lebas, M., Manufacturing performance measurement and performance management. International Conference on Production Research, August 16-20, 1993. Lappeenranta, Finland.

”Comprehensive user interviews, and QFD workshop for listing and assessing the customer and technological requirements, laid a strong basis for the execution and success of the vision and conceptualising phase.” Jyri Kylmälä, UPM