Two converging companies should feel more united and less disparate in one console.

Users were subjected to the poor navigability between the acquired IaaS company Softlayer and IBM's public cloud platform then known as Bluemix.

Opportunity
How can the front and back ends of the public cloud be unified with minimal disruption to the existing experiences of account management, billing, and usage functionalities?

Outcome

After amassing research efforts and launching a full audit, we were successfully in implementing a productive experience for our users. Usabilla’s direct feedback indicated improved satisfaction to above-average within the immediate month. While significant wins were made for simplified navigation and page consolidation, a unified usage dashboard remained to be an outstanding issue that resulted from the lack of resolution of IBM’s two different backend billing systems. Collaboration across teams enabled a better understanding of each team’s processes, codebases, and knowledge share of our different systems.

This project won a 2019 Stratus Cloud Award for "changing the way clients communicate, conduct business and interact with the world."

Team

  • Offering Manager: Sydney Riggs

  • Architects: Seth Thornberry + Mukul Tuteja + Rajesh Gurumoorthy

  • Development + Engineering: Tiffany Cross + Logan McCaul + Ryan O. Mackey + Jeroen Schaftenaar + Karan Karuppiah + Rajkiran Balasubramanian + Brad Johnson + Samuel Mooring + Ryan Edgell

  • Researchers: Katherine Titsworth + Angela Runge + Christine Tsai

  • Design Leads: Brendan Fitzpatrick + Morgan Concialdi

  • Designers: Alisha Moore + Missy Yarbrough

Primary Skills Utilized

  • competitive research

  • information architecture + audit

  • sketching + wireframes

  • rapid prototyping

  • usability evaluation

Background

While IBM may have acquired cloud infrastructure company Softlayer in 2015, the public IBM Cloud platform remained separate (as IBM Bluemix) resulting in a fragmented, disparate experience. Efforts had been made to unify the two but many were cosmetic or were incomplete because of competing priorities.

IBM Cloud: A Tale of Uniting Two Worlds

Competitive Landscape

Because the 2018 Gartner Report exposed key technical shortcomings that prevented customers from having a unified experience, our priorities shifted to address this major need. Our squad took a look at the competition to assess their respective billing and account experiences.

IBM Cloud: A Tale of Uniting Two Worlds

Reuse Previous Research

A prior research card-sort study informed our starting point with highlighting client behavior as they operated their primary management tasks and how they organize them. Furthermore, previous generative work around the IBM Cloud billing ecosystem had been steadily gathered over the previous two years.

With the direction of our lead designers, we reviewed and utilized the work as an effective way to reduce redundancy and to jumpstart our understanding of current user engagement.

IBM Cloud: A Tale of Uniting Two Worlds

Comparative Audit

With the guidance of our lead designer, we uncovered the overlaps of functionalities between the existing SoftLayer portal and the IBM Bluemix console. From there, we were able to identify the primary needs for unification and the gaps in the information hierarchy.

IBM Cloud: A Tale of Uniting Two Worlds

Information Architecture

Equipped with the research insights, competitive observations, and a rough idea of the current state, our team drafted a revised IA structure that would address the painpoints. Raw user feedback from Usabilla and analytic trend of customer traffic through Amplitude dashboards guided the prioritization of patterns and functionality needs.

IBM Cloud: A Tale of Uniting Two Worlds

Low Fidelity Wireframes

We divided up the responsibility of each area of the billing and management pages, ideating on how to consolidate the two experiences in a seemingly effortless way. To ensure that we were working with feasible constraints, we also had regular conversations with our development/engineering counterparts. Eventually, we drafted a testing plan for our researchers to lead in greater usability testing sessions.

IBM Cloud: A Tale of Uniting Two Worlds

Usability Study

Five external cloud users were recruited for moderated usability tests. Having no prior experience with either the Softlayer or Bluemix portals, these users had fresh perspectives. This selection helped to ensure the insights gained from testing were unaffected by the bias of having to navigate the broken current experience.

Major pain point areas
🧭

Navigation

Users had to access two management UIs
💸

Usability Tests

Users did not find relevant billing information and did not trust inaccurate usage invoices.
💼

Account Organization

The former Account page was a “junk drawer” of random, assorted functions.
IBM Cloud: A Tale of Uniting Two Worlds

Navigation / Before

Users had to access two management UIs, the Bluemix Console for PaaS and the SoftLayer Control Portal for IaaS.

  • Inconsistent global navigation

  • Unpredicted destinations

  • Segregated content availability

  • Multiple levels of hierarchy confusion

IBM Cloud: A Tale of Uniting Two Worlds

Navigation / After

  1. Three major sections with no flyouts
  2. Local navigation with major sections
  3. User scoped profile

IBM Cloud: A Tale of Uniting Two Worlds

Billing / Before

Users did not find relevant billing information and did not trust inaccurate usage invoices.

  • Content unaligned to page titles
  • Navigating between portals is poor
  • Usage dashboard reports only PaaS items
  • No payment capabilities in console

IBM Cloud: A Tale of Uniting Two Worlds

Billing / After

  1. Easy finding of pages for various tasks
  2. Consolidated list of invoices for download and viewing
  3. IaaS + PaaS resources usage data
  4. One place to make and view payments

IBM Cloud: A Tale of Uniting Two Worlds

Account Organization / Before

Junk drawer
No organization to the various pieces of account specific functionality between control and console.

IBM Cloud: A Tale of Uniting Two Worlds

Account Organization / After

  1. Division between user scoped (global) and account scoped settings
  2. Information architecture to organize functionality
  3. All features consolidated into one console

19
SoftLayer control portal pages
76
IBM Bluemix console pages
95
Initial total platform pages
22
Revised total platform pages
Reflections

What did I learn?

Collaboration across teams enabled a better understanding of each team’s processes, codebases, and knowledge share of our different systems. Communication fell secondary to the urgency which resulted in numerous compromises (and delayed information of dependencies).

Despite the the immense scope of the project, a sudden and swift deadline, and conflicting philosophies, I am most proud of our team contributors for their diligence, advocacy, and continued spirit.