The singular search sensation that is "One"
One.IU is a search-based, mobile-friendly solution to discovering campus services. It literally is having an international impact, having been licensed to a software development company in South Africa, among others.
The One.IU team includes Rob Lowden, associate vice president, enterprise systems; Aaron Neal, director, enterprise software; Eric Westfall, enterprise software architect and product owner; Jeremy Hopf, principal software engineer and technical lead; Jeremy Walker, principal software engineer; Andrew Hettlinger, software engineer; David Dyer, associate software engineer; Tom Clark, senior user experience designer; Eric Cox, user experience designer; and Ryan Vallow, business analyst.
Question: What led to the creation of One.IU?
Eric Westfall: We had been running the OneStart portal at IU for over a decade, and we were continually hearing feedback about how hard it was to find things. Locating tasks and services required a lot of clicks and an understanding of how to use its various menus. People who had been at the university for years knew where things were, but we get a fresh crop of students each year, and we needed a better way. We wanted to keep the search simple but intuitive, so we came up with the mantra "Search, Click, Done."
The rise of mobile computing was another major motivator in the creation of One. Our existing portal did not meet the mobile-friendly expectations of staff, students, and faculty. We designed One with an app-store-like user interface that would provide a consistent experience across devices with screens of different sizes. We integrated One into our IU Mobile native app, which we made available in the Apple and Google app stores.
Q: What metrics show the effectiveness of One.IU?
Ryan Vallow: With the transition from OneStart to One.IU, mobile device usage increased from 17 percent to 38 percent of users. We expect this number to keep increasing as publishers within One.IU continue to make content more mobile-friendly.
We also looked at how long users were spending in the legacy portal versus One.IU during one of the months when they were running in parallel. Sessions in One.IU lasted approximately 1 minute less than in our legacy portal. Looking at the total number of sessions, we realized this amounted to saving the university community nearly 3.8 years just that month!
Q: What are your group's strengths? How has working as a group strengthened the creation of One?
Jeremy Hopf: Our team has a high level of trust. We rely on each other to get our tasks completed, and correctly. Our team is very good at discussing the full potential of possible features from many viewpoints.
David Dyer: Communication and motivation are our group's biggest strengths. With most of the team working remotely, being able to communicate ideas and show designs can be hard. But our team makes sure everyone knows what's planned and what's underway. We're all motivated to deliver our best work on any given task. We want to make sure any new feature on One works as completely as possible and looks the best it can.
Jeremy Walker: We're a small, tight-knit group that is open to constructive criticism. We can all share our opinions on how we think things should work, and nobody will get offended. We can brainstorm openly, and the best ideas come out in the end.
Q: How do you define success as an inventor?
Andrew Hettlinger: The primary thing is feeling that I am creating something that has a positive impact. I enjoy knowing that I've helped someone out, even in a small way. Receiving positive feedback from people who have interacted with what I've created really validates that feeling of success. On the flip side, even without positive feedback, I still feel proud of what I've created if I put a good amount of work into it and I know it is a good final product.
Hopf: Success for me is helping people who use the product increase their productivity. It's nice to watch an application grow and evolve over time while making people's lives or jobs easier.
Q: What were your interactions like with Indiana University Research and Technology Corp. when commercializing One?
Rob Lowden: We found IURTC's professionalism, knowledge, and experience to be invaluable in selecting a strategic course for the venture. IURTC demonstrated value in both national and international negotiations with distribution partners, ultimately securing revenue-generating licensing agreements in the U.S. and Africa.
IURTC continues to expand our positive working relationship as we extend the availability of One to Europe and elsewhere. The effort is a testament to the great work of IU staff, who have developed a product that serves IU constituents well and also receives national and international validation that the software is useful beyond the boundaries of IU. Dozens of institutions have purchased One for deployment.
Q: What has been one of the biggest challenges of having your work licensed?
Eric Cox: Every new feature we design provides a new challenge. Designing a system for the breadth and depth of our growing audience provides an ongoing opportunity to research potential shortfalls in the areas of accessibility, visual cues, and application flow. We consider not only how the new feature would fit IU, but also how it would fit other universities. Our team works extremely hard to provide a product that is easy to use. The exciting part of it all is being part of such a unique product and contributing to its growth.
Tom Clark: Creating an application for licensed use comes with a particular set of design challenges. On the One.IU team, we pride ourselves on an intuitive user experience that doesn't sacrifice robustness of features. However, since One is customizable by institutions that license it, many design decisions are beyond our control. A simple comparison would be that of a music composer who can hear in his or her head exactly how the music is supposed to sound. But ultimately, the integrity and quality of the music rely on the skill of the performer.
In the same way, those of us who designed One have a clear concept of how the application can be best leveraged at the institutional level, but ultimately, the success of the product is at the hands of those who implement, maintain, and customize it for their own environments. To that end, we have created One not only as a customizable product, but also in a way that encourages local customizations that maintain the integrity and simplicity of the end-user experience.
Q: What is the most important thing for a researcher to realize when translating laboratory work to a commercial product?
Hopf: You want to keep the integrity of your application and its core principles, but at the same time you must be willing and able to adapt to the customers' wants and needs. Going commercial makes you think of how to attract the most customers while showing how your application is unique and different than others that came before.
Q: What inventors do you admire, and why?
Westfall: I've come to admire people who can design and create great products while keeping them simple and elegant. I think Steve Jobs was great at that, so he is definitely someone I admire. Lately, as One continues to develop and add more features, it is becoming even more critical to work hard to maintain the simplicity and experience of the product. We don't always succeed in that, but we certainly aspire to it. The whole team has a shared vision on the product, though, so we keep each other honest.