RIA Development – Planning for Success

 

1. Introducing Rich Internet Applications

 

Rich Internet applications are fast becoming an important differentiator in the area of web presence. RIAs combine the reach of the Internet with a rich and compelling user interface that provides greater level of satisfaction and success in a user’s web-based interactions.

RIAs are also becoming increasingly popular and accepted. According to Gartner Group (http://www.gartner.com/), mainstream adoption and critical mass among IT and commercial software projects will occur by 2008, and at least 60 percent of new application development projects will include RIA technology by 2010. Planning for success in rich Internet applications goes beyond writing code. At Adobe, we have found through consulting work that successful implementations require prior considerations related to the ultimate application users’ technical and usage context, effective design principles, skills and infrastructure of the organization, and ongoing support considerations.

This paper focuses on factors to weigh when considering how, when, and where to get started in the design, development, and deployment of RIAs in your organization. We address considerations in the areas of application suitability, organizational readiness, impact on technical infrastructure, mitigating the risk and measuring rewards of an RIA.

Structure of this document

 

This document addresses the various perspectives to be considered when undertaking the development of a rich Internet application; the sections are detailed below. This paper begins with some background on rich Internet applications, with pointers for additional information, and then lays out a step-by-step plan for RIA success.

1. Introducing rich Internet applications: This section gives background information on rich Internet applications and their business value.

2. Determining the appropriate RIA scenario: The first question for application planners is to determine of the type of application to build and under which conditions is it appropriate to build an RIA.

3. Evaluating the organizational skills required for RIAs: Adobe customers often want to know how the adoption of RIAs fits into their current organization and skills; and, to which extent they need to go outside the organization for resources, and where they can find these resources or training.

4. Prototyping: Adobe Consulting group has found that in many cases an effective way to get started with an RIA is to develop a “vision prototype.” The objective is to discover the value that can be realized, calibrate expectations on what is possible, and build interest (and funding) within the organization.

5. Piloting the application: Though some organizations plunge directly into building a large RIA project, Adobe Consulting offers a more measured approach that allows an organization to measure the value without the risk.

6. Assessing the impact of Rich Internet Applications: The project objectives should be associated with specific, quantifiable metrics, such as average time required to complete a task, or percentage of users who complete a specific task.

 

The value of RIAs

 

Creating and delivering a superior user experience is not merely about making an interface that looks pretty. The look and feel of an application is important and helps retain the user’s focus, but the essence of great user experiences is the ease and efficiency with which the user’s goals are met. In this context, it is important to ensure that RIAs deliver measurable results.

1 Increased revenue: more online transactions due to speed, task completion rate, and return. For example, when the Broadmoor resort (www.broadmoor.com/) introduced its RIA reservation system, it doubled the conversion rate from browser to buyer.

2 Increased differentiation: more intuitive, customized, and compelling access to services.

3 Engaging experience: the narrative is beyond what simple HTML can provide. For example, Intelligent Finance (www.if.com/) achieved a 15 percent increase in direct mortgage sales when they delivered an RIA calculator into the customer journey. The RIA explains the benefits of offset mortgaging to customers better than static HTML text.

4 Increased understanding: from complex business information to understanding trends in statistics, RIAs help a user understand content in a visual and interactive way.

5 Reduced support costs: more usable + fewer errors = fewer support calls. For example, when Yankee Candle (www.yankeecandle.com/) deployed its RIA for creating and ordering custom candles, they realized a 70 percent decrease in support calls to their call center.

 

Additional resources

 

For overview information on rich Internet applications, including white papers and demos, see the Adobe rich Internet applications topic center at www.adobe.com/devnet/ria/ For more information on Adobe products and the Flex and Flash product lines, visit www.adobe.com/software/.

 

2. Determining the appropriate RIA scenario

 

Rich Internet applications can provide a significantly improved user experience for many different types of user tasks. However, they may not be the ideal approach for every kind of Internet-related application. This section focuses on when to use RIAs, when to use HTML, and when a combination of the two fits the project best.

It is difficult to improve on browser-delivered HTML when the purpose of that page is consistent with the original intention of the web: text-centric information, flowed around static content (such as graphics), containing links to other pages of similarly structured information. In other words, for text-based, page-oriented information, standard HTML-related development and delivery environments are likely to be the appropriate choice.

There are even usability advantages to HTML in these cases, since millions of users are conditioned to interact with text-based content as rendered by the browser. These advantages include short-cuts such as Ctrl+F for finding text within the page, or highlighting text on the page for copying and later pasting elsewhere, or bookmarking the page based on the URL (web address) that appears in the browser. While all these experiences can be replicated in the Adobe Engagement Platform, they are built into the standard operating behavior of HTML-based websites.

 

Advantages of RIAs over HTML-based sites

 

Despite the strengths of HTML, it’s clear that not all information is best conveyed in text form. Looking at standard office automation suites such as Microsoft Office, we see that people interact with their information in a variety of ways, ranging from text to numbers to graphics and more. In fact, it’s often the case that while text-based content is essential to providing substance to a site, text is generally an ineffective way to provide a navigation framework, or data visualization and analysis capability. Furthermore, standard text-oriented HTML is static and does little to engage the user and make the experience exciting and more relevant. RIAs provide particular user experience advantages for several application characteristics, however:

 

RIA advantage 1: Context continuity

 

One of the challenges of an HTML-based application is that it is page-based. When the user wants to view other information, or even look at the same information in a different way, standard HTML requires a new page, or a new version of the same page, to be loaded. No matter how fast the Internet connection is, or how efficiently the page is rendered, the fact is that there is a period of time—usually between 2 and 5 seconds—when the new page is loading and not fully available. This pause allows the user’s attention to stray, and when the new page arrives, some re-orientation is required, however minor. If it were possible to graph the user’s level of engagement with the application, the curve would be very jagged, spiking when the page loads and dropping as each new page is requested.

The advantage of an RIA is that these gaps in the user’s engagement can be minimized or eliminated. Instead of loading new pages, an RIA can reveal content that has already been loaded—sometimes in the background and unnoticed by the user. The effect on the user is that their attention can remain consistently engaged, with many benefits:

1 Responsiveness: When the application responds directly to a user’s command, or when the user can directly manipulate elements on the screen, it engenders a feeling of connectedness and responsiveness to the application. The user trusts the application, which feels more like a solid-state machine than a harried librarian shuttling off to fetch the next volume at a user’s request.

2 Productivity: Not having to subtly re-orient themselves with each new page, users can optimize their focus and stay engaged with the tasks at hand. The feeling of a solid-state machine also empowers the user to explore more, without fear of losing the page-oriented thread or having to reload previous data-filled pages upon return.

3 User persistence: The feeling of connectedness to the application, without page transitions that cause attention gaps, keeps users more committed throughout the course of an application task. Each attention gap provides an opening for a user to shift his or her attention and move to a different task, application or site.

Regarding user persistence, there can be significant return on investment in developing an RIA simply by realizing an increased rate of task completion. The benefit should be measurable: We know of many companies, ranging from online employment services to insurance companies, who have measured the drop-off rate on an existing HTML site. The loss of revenue due to employers not getting through the cumbersome job posting process, and the increased cost of customer service when claims aren’t successfully filed electronically, represent lost business value that an RIA can directly address.

 

RIA advantage 2: Data-intensive web applications

 

A web application that consumes large amounts of data is an excellent candidate for an RIA. A traditional HTML site that involves data must essentially deliver the data as static “snapshots” of the actual data that resides on the server. If the user wants to filter the data, or request a different data set, the application must go back to the server and create another snapshot. This process violates the principles of responsiveness, productivity, and user persistence mentioned earlier.

A rich Internet application provides a different experience. The original data remains on the server, of course, but the RIA can request data in the background, while the user focuses on the application itself. Moreover, with more business logic resident on the client, many operations can actually be done on the client, resulting in more responsive user interfaces.

RIA
 

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