Tuesday, February 24, 2015

508 Compliance and Content Management

Section 508 compliance seems tricky and confusing, but its implementation on content management systems is vital for many organizations. According to the United States Census Bureau, about one in five Americans are impaired with some sort of disability. That is a rather large number of people that you do not want to ignore.

All federal and state agencies of the U.S. government are required to meet section 508 standards for accessibility. This law was established in 1998 to require that all technology used by the federal government to be accessible to those with disabilities. This includes those with visual, audible, physical or cognitive impairment.

Assistive Technology

Those with disabilities often use assistive technology. This would include things like screen readers for the visually impaired user. Jaws and Microsoft Narrator are a couple of popular software titles that are used for these purposes.

The Standards of 508 Section

There were 16 standards developed to make information and technology accessible to users with disabilities. These standards are the core requirements to making your content section 508 compliant with the federal government. There is no one automated solution that will magically make your site compliant, unfortunately.

These days, it is still a mix of manual and automated processes that drive a site’s compliance. Below are the 16 standards. Sites must be accessible by keyboard only (without a mouse). All screens should be readable by screen readers that can also display alt tags and descriptions of images. Closed captioning should be available (or transcripts of audio/video). Online forms should be able to completed using assistive technology (or only the keyboard).

Good Tips for Usability

Good technology applies great user experience, user interaction and design principles. This is often referred to as UX/UI in the creative and IT industries. The two terms evolved from the guidance involved in usability principles, an area of expertise that has grown over several decades.

Good usability means the user is able to quickly perform a task with little to no difficulty. This often involves employing sensible and logical navigation, understandable required action items, well defined terms, clean design and smooth workflows. There are other options to consider that vary from project to project, but these are the most basic caveats to understand when dealing with usability as it pertains to section 508 compliance.

Software and Technology Function Essentials for Section 508

The software and technology fundamentals here are designed to make computing life a bit easier for those with a disability. Your CMS should follow these guidelines and tips. Remember that all things should be executable from the computer keyboard, without a mouse. Some people can’t use a mouse. This should include shortcuts, object/image manipulation and dropdown list operation to name a few on the computer keyboard side. StickyKeys, FilterKeys, MouseKeys and High Contrast are some useful functions for this.

Your organization should also maintain a well-defined on-screen solution for focusing. An indicator that moves with the other interface elements is the preferred method for your CMS. Assistive technology should help with focus controls.

Web browsing comes natural to most of us that can use all five senses, but someone with impairment will have trouble. That is why it is important to have sufficient information about the user interface, such as identity, operation and state of the elements, available to the assistive technology. An image that represents a program element (icons) should also display text to define that process. Meaning should also be consistent with icons or bitmap images that are used to define elements of an application.

Textual information should be provided through the operating system’s (OS) functionality for text display. Text content, text input caret location and text attributes are the minimum textual information that should be displayed in the CMS.

Display options also need to be tweaked for this with vision impairment. For example, applications should never override a user’s selected contrast levels or color selections on the screen. Display functions should accommodate those with a disability. When there is animation, it should also be available to users as non-animated content or information. The user should also be able to choose the presentation mode of this content prior to viewing or consuming it.

Organization is also key for some. For instance, for section 508 compliance in the CMS, it is important to label items clearly so they may be easily understood. Color coding or highlighting items should not be the sole way to handle the process of conveying information, indicating an action, prompting a response or distinguishing a visual element. A large range of color and contrast items also helps users stay organized with large loads of information that may need to be categorized and organized in a certain fashion within folders, directories, etc.

There are also some key elements to avoid. One good example is blinking or flashing elements. Not only can they be annoying and distracting, but they can also be problematic for the end user. The frequency should be somewhere between 2 Hz and 55 Hz.

Assistive technology should also be available to users who are filling out digital forms. It should be able to assist with accessing information, modifying information and submitting information.

Contextual information is also very important. Users with all five senses may take certain elements for granted, but these items should be accessible to those with disabilities too. Items in color should also be available without it, like markup or context clues for the user. Documents should be readable without a style sheet. Redundant text links should be there for each active region of a server-side image map (replacement of image elements with text elements). Table data should be clearly defined, including row or column headers. Even frames should be clearly defined as an element.

There are many other standards and compliance rules of thumb to follow. It is best to consult with an expert on maintaining section 508 compliance.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Using Big Data Efficiently in 2015

Will 2015 be the year that your enterprise be able to finally harness all of that customer data that they have compiled over the years? Will there be ways to organize and use this information to impact the bottom line? Indeed, this data has become a form of capital for enterprises. So what will change in 2015?

Big Data Brands to Watch

Here are the areas to watch: secure storage and backup with encryption, reliable data management and data visualization (DV) are key ingredients as far as next generation big data software is concerned. 

As far as vendors are concerned, there are several players in the space including Twitter-owned Lucky Sort, Tableau, Advanced Visual Systems, JasperSoft, Pentaho, Infogram Tibco, 1010 Data, Salesforce, IBM, SAP, Hewlett-Packard, SAS, Oracle, Dell and Cisco Systems. These are a mix of independent and majors, but all have solid reputations in the industry. Choosing which one depends on numerous factors like budget, IT systems already in place, preference, reaquirements, etc.

The Coming Influx of Big Data

Big data must be useful and many professionals within all sorts of organizations are actively seeking out ways to use the data they have collected, rather than just consuming it.

Is your organization prepared for the influx of new users and devices that will flood the Internet and electronic communications, encapsulating customer interactions more than ever before? Many enterprises could be unprepared for the massive wave of data coming as billions of devices join the Internet. More devices, not just smartphones and computers, will be connected, bringing more data into organizations' servers. 

Gartner reportedly estimated the Internet of Things, or IoT, market at 26 billion devices by 2020 and Cisco thinks it will add $14 trillion in economic value by 2020. These devices include everything from household and office electronics and appliances to industrial manufacturing equipment. IoT will increase big data exponentially. It will hit pretty much every industry in a big way, but planning and preparing for the road ahead can ensure at least some adaptability for 2015 and beyond.

How to Deal With Data

Assess your organization's needs thoroughly including a checklist of IT systems in place and what needs or opportunities exist there. IT management will likely find a multitude of ways to incorporate new systems or upgrades through the right software options. Try to find robust, dynamic systems that are tailored to the way information is used or may be used within and outside the organization. Also, explore ways to improve customer relationships through the targeting and taxonomy of their data. Big data will be a more useful asset in 2015.

After you have taken the time to make an assessment of need and checklist for problem areas, you have to implement changes so that you can make the most of your information. You want to absolutely make sure that the data that you have collected from customers, suppliers, personnel and others is accessible, useful and organized. 

For example, a good search software that can access thousands of records and display results based on varying factors is a great way to handle the problem of search. Great search software is sometimes already a part of your organization’s CMS or other software for handling data and is just may not be fully utilized to make search more useful or easier.

Using Enterprise Search

Enterprise search applications vary by brand, but you may recognize a few of the names immediately from the larger tech firms such as IBM, HP and Microsoft. There are also open source options. Other vendors include Oracle, LucidWorks, Lexmark Perceptive Software, Sinequa and others. Sharepoint is probably one of the most popular options, which is also a tool for collaboration available from Microsoft. Google and IBM are also top companies in search technology. Many systems support multiple languages too.

HP is a great example of useful search for enterprise. Their flagship system is appropriately named Autonomy. Autonomy can index, or “crawl” (a search software term) millions of records including various types of content like documents, audio, video and social media. Employees and customers have come to expect a great system of search within their companies as expectations for technology have continued to climb higher due to a surge in search application use (such as Google searches on the web).

There are some important facets to search applications that should be noted. The HP Autonomy system, for instance, is capable of searching based on concept and context. This is becoming much more important in the era of big data. Searching through such large volumes of data requires some scrutiny to access the right information assets. Enterprise search applications can help with this obstacle.

Start with Little Data

It has been suggested that to deal with big data, you must first deal with little data. We are talking about metadata of course. Metadata are bits of information that can offer insight to content, helping to optimize search. Essentially it is information about information. Metadata can provide that context and concept information we referenced earlier in search applications.

Working with metadata can help with the overall process of keeping data organized and easy to access. The smaller pieces of information come together to become big information sets. Your team must start there to adequately solve this information overload problem.

Start by analyzing the exact needs or perceived functionality of the information. Taxonomy and terminology can be critical. Defining terms and putting them into contextual and conceptual order will help to provide a road map to access and utilize all of your team’s critical business data. This way, your data will actually become more valuable, too. Your information assets need to be managed in order to fully take advantage of them.

Some Big Data Tips

Here are some general tips to help with organizing and using your data assets:

  • Perform usability testing of your organization’s tools for data management.
  • Develop compliance and governance model for handling information.
  • Develop master data management (MDM) plan to reinforce and promote compliance.
  • Assess taxonomy and develop a controlled vocabulary to keep data structured.
  • Compress files (such as PDF documents) when necessary to save on storage cost.