CUA of the Month – November, 2007

MetLife's 43 Certified
Usability Analysts
"We have a solid analysis practice in place that details how to gather and analyze user requirements and understand task flows."
MetLife's 43 Certified Usability Analysts

Moving mountains with metrics

by June Oliver

If life insurance companies were mountains, MetLife would be Everest.

MetLife ranks #1 in the US with over $53 billion in 2006 revenues. The company has approximately $3.6 trillion of life insurance in force as of December 31, 2006 and that's only one of its many financial products.

MetLife's roots go back to the Civil War, and the current company was chartered in 1868. History added weight to the company's underwriting experience, but has also created a burden of aging software applications and outmoded user interfaces.

The vast operation generates a mountain of data. This presents a challenge for IT professionals to develop screens that are data-intensive and systems that are rich with functionality, but at the same time easy to use and navigate. It became apparent that solid UI standards would be a great help in addressing this challenge.

"I began to research user interface standards a few years ago," says Jennifer Brusilovsky, a Business Systems Analysis (BSA) Lead in the Individual Business IT (IBIT) division, and one of MetLife's first CUAs. "I discovered HFI was a leader in the field."

Jennifer reached out to HFI and began a partnership that included CUA training for about 70 IBIT professionals, an Expert Review of MetLife's Broker Portal, and new UI standards for Web-based applications.

"It's been a successful partnership," says CUA Irina Gutman, a fellow BSA Lead who co-chaired the standards development project with Jennifer. "The standards reflect MetLife's branding and marketing strategy (i.e., the famous Snoopy mascot). They address a number of problems like lack of consistency and duplication of effort. And they guide the design process so that it moves more quickly and systematically."

To pilot the new standards, the IBIT CUAs used them to redesign the Sales Material Review System (SMRS), a Web-based system designed to facilitate the review and approval of all sales materials for the MetLife Enterprise.

"The old application was cumbersome and not at all user friendly. For example, a user might spend a lot of time filling out submission form, only to click the 'submit' button and find that he was not eligible to submit that particular request in the first place. That clearly breaks the usability rule which says, 'If I'm doing something wrong, tell me right away,'" explains Irina.

The application overhaul fixed this problem and streamlined the appearance, operation and navigation by making good use of search, drop down and tab features.

"Getting all the information on one screen was a challenge because the application was extremely data intensive," says Irina, "but we got rid of the redundancies."

The remake was a hit with MetLife associates. Users' feedback mentioned improvements in access, screen views, and information organization.

"HFI training has helped us better understand our users," says Jennifer. "We have a solid analysis practice in place that details how to gather and analyze user requirements and understand task flows. HFI training, however, also pointed out importance of creating "personas", to pay attention to age, educational level, hardware constraints, and whole work environment, etc. This proves to be beneficial in designing UI that is specific to the needs of a given user group."

For instance, in the front office, some agents work on BlackBerrys and laptops from their clients' homes. They need instant access to information. Alternatively, the back office functions are performed in a different setting and by people with different skill sets and time available to complete the tasks.

"Some of our applications are over 20 years old," says Hemal Patel, AVP of IBIT Quality Assurance. "The old GUIs slow down productivity and increase maintenance costs. Everyone is concerned about rising maintenance costs."

Significant mergers in recent years have created another kind of pressure for an updated IT approach. "We are using four different architectural models right how," says Hemal. "The timing is right for consolidation and for more institutionalized usability."

The IBIT BSA Leads are working toward institutionalization on several levels. They offer on-line training for IBIT associates. And they are in the process of forming a new Usability Committee for CUAs to share experiences and to drive change.

The Individual Business IT organization is planning to share their experience with the other lines of business across the enterprise. "We have a high level of awareness of usability within MetLife," says Jennifer. "We include the why's and how's of usability in our BSA training program. Ten percent of our BSA's are already CUAs. We have already implemented new standards on about a dozen of internal applications that went through the redesign or are part of the new development effort planning. Our guidelines are to utilize the standards for all new development and implement them on opportunistic basis for other enhancement projects."

The motivation for the standards implementation is not only to improve the productivity of business users. The standards also save time for the IT designers and developers. "To get buy-in from business owners, we need to show clear cost benefits," Hemal reflects. "We need cold hard facts."

In the end, it is the metrics that will move the mountain.

CUA of the Month

Each month we highlight the successes and achievements of a different member of our CUA community. If you are a Certified Usability Analyst and would like to be considered for CUA of the Month recognition, please send a brief professional bio to

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Reviewed: 18 Mar 2014

This Privacy Policy governs the manner in which Human Factors International, Inc., an Iowa corporation ("HFI") collects, uses, maintains and discloses information collected from users (each, a "User") of its website and any derivative or affiliated websites on which this Privacy Policy is posted (collectively, the "Website"). HFI reserves the right, at its discretion, to change, modify, add or remove portions of this Privacy Policy at any time by posting such changes to this page. You understand that you have the affirmative obligation to check this Privacy Policy periodically for changes, and you hereby agree to periodically review this Privacy Policy for such changes. The continued use of the Website following the posting of changes to this Privacy Policy constitutes an acceptance of those changes.


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Reviewed: 18 Mar 2014

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