In 2017 CN started deploying a large number of mobile devices for crew that are working on trains. In 2020 the pandemic accelerated the deployment and made these device a central piece of the crew’s workflow. The rapid deployment of new applications and accesses lead to a disorganized and disparate set of application on the device. In 2021 with the help of our team CN decided to explore how the devices are used in the field and what can be done to optimize, simplify and unify the various applications available on the device. A secondary goal was to explore the need to deploy devices with larger screens even if doing so would limit the mobility.
The involvement of the user research happened by chance. We were working on an inventory of the applications that currently exists on the internal devices when we heard about the wish from a VP to upgrade the devices to tablets.
Wanting to be sure of the implications and real need to switch to a larger screen even if it means sacrificing portability, my colleague and I contacted the VP to understand where this wish was coming from and to build together a research plan to better understand the usability issues of the current device and applications.
After our initial discussion with the VP we decided to plan an interview with him to understand his motivation for changing the devices and get a sense of his overall plan with larger devices. This interview was also an opportunity to validate our idea to run a survey for all users directly on the current device to get a sense of what the issues are.
I designed the survey to be answered directly on the already deployed devices. The survey contained questions to score the usability on the various applications already deployed, questions about the feature currently used and questions to evaluate the will from users to sacrifice mobility in favor of a larger screen.
In the end the qualtrics survey was answered by more than 4000 employees and shed light on a lot of usability and process issues related to the device. Both the size of the device but also processes and regulations around the device usage on the field.
As a result we were able to issue recommendations around the modernization of processes, the update of some of the applications currently available on the device as well as the addition of other needed features.
The survey also illustrated that the need for a larger screen do exists but seemed to be related to the lack of purpose built applications for certain tasks as well as an inconsistency between the processes in place and the expectations of usages from the application designers.
The final report recommended a small scale test of a larger screen that takes into account the regulatory and processes limitations as well as more shadowing research to dive deeper in these limitations and understand how they could be alleviated with the current device.