What is WBPSS?

It sounds ideal, support for most any task you are asked to perform in the workplace precisely when you want it, day or night, right at your desk, and without troubling others. That has been the promise of electronic performance support systems (EPSS) for years. Now we have a cost-effective, open-architecture, universally accepted and pervasive delivery system called the Web. In simple terms, build your EPSS as one or more Web applications and, voil, you have a Web-based performance support system (WBPSS).

diagram of the components of a WBPSS

Web-based performance support systems may be designed using existing or easily created performance enhancing components. For example, Web-based training would likely be a key component; though designed in smaller, task-specific informational units that could be completed in short order. The WBT might cover the use of various productivity software, such as word processors, spreadsheets, accounting software, communications or database applications.

Task-specific templates and job aids assist users in performing to an organization's "best practices" standards. Wizards and cue cards walk users through an approved procedure. Users learn how to perform the task properly without human guidance; and, in each case, productivity is enhanced.

The most valuable resource an organization has is its information assets, the collective knowledge of the employees, the archive of information useful to performing productive tasks. A WBPSS might collect, organize, manage, and retrieve these assets for the immediate benefit of users. Task-related information resources may already exist, perhaps not in an organized form, yet available for incorporation into a unified performance support system. Context-sensitive help and search capabilities assist in connecting the information asset to the task. As in all parts of a well-designed WBPSS, and especially true here, usability engineering is important to enable the user to find and retrieve the right information quickly.

Artificial intelligence expert systems house the collective knowledge of an organization for accomplishing tasks. Through rules-based logic and a series of user responses to specific questions, the knowledge of recognized experts in a field can be unleashed. Valid and thus useful expert systems are hard to build, but the payoff would be tremendous if this knowledge could be applied instantly to a variety of tasks.

Knowledge assets need to be collected, catalogued, organized, and formatted constantly; otherwise, the information in the system becomes stagnant. A good EPSS/WBPSS should have a knowledge assets management system, an application and database for storing organizational knowledge assets.

Agents are hot! Currently you can find and use Web agents to perform tasks for you; for example, monitor news groups for a certain phrase and report to you each time someone uses that phrase. Agents are software applications that constantly perform tasks on your behalf behind the scenes. Tell them what you want done and let them run. You go on to other tasks while the agent works for you. Agents, I predict, will become one of the most valuable components of a WBPSS for enhancing human performance.

Technically speaking, WBPSSs uses TCP/IP and HTTP protocols to transport information from a central network application server to Web clients and back. The interface for the system could be the familiar unmodified Web browser, a Web browser customized with special features, or a unique Web application. Just as with EPSS, some WBPSSs will be designed so as to appear to be a single, though massive, application. Navigational features, visual design, and information organization will be uniformly applied. In other WBPSSs, the components may be designed independently and only linked by a central menued application. (Reminds me of a picnic table where I know I will find delicious food, but no two plates will be alike.)

This, of course, is just an overview of WBPSS content and structure. Read more about EPSS by following selected links in the Resources section. Good WBPSSs do not come in shrink-wrapped packages; you have to create them exclusively to meet your organization's needs.


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