Enterprise Software: The Revolution is Here
Most people have used an Enterprise application. Think back about an experience when you used an application at your workplace to do timesheets, submit expense reports, manage content, or access a database.
At one of my first jobs, I vividly remember the timesheet software and the lack of software for expense reports. When I logged in, it was a sea of greyness lacking in human experience. I had workarounds to get work done. It took me more time to do it, than if I used an excel spreadsheet. These are just some of the pain points I have experienced — and I know I am not alone. I hear the same poor experiences from users when I am creating experiences for enterprise software. A report by Forrester supports the widespread nature of the problem. They found that 69% of employees want technology to be more mobile, 75% have a hard time accessing information, and 62% have to rely on other employees to obtain job-critical information.**
The human experience (UX) is counterintuitive in most enterprise applications and often looks like it was designed when the internet was born. There is a reason for this dated experience, as many Enterprise applications stay in the market with incremental updates (both the front and back end) that are usually only band-aids to help keep this vast ecosystem running.
Enterprise Software Background
In the 90s, pioneers such as Oracle and PeopleSoft created software packages chock full of features set out to answer most of the significant problems encountered by employees in medium/large sized companies. Typically, decisions for software purchasing fell into the hands of the IT department, with little to no input from people who will be using it for 8-12 hours a day. They were swayed by the potential applications of so many features and bloated packages of catchalls. Although the number of features used was typically between 4-5 if at all due to it taking too long to accomplish a goal.**
Consumer App Modeling
Startups like Gusto, Outreach, and Slack are taking the Enterprise application space by storm. Users are expecting innovative digital experiences equivalent to the consumer applications they use on their mobile phone, in browsers, and in their daily environment. The average U.S. consumer spends 5 hours a day on mobile devices, up 20% from the year before.* Mobile devices have created more digital experiences and paved the way for the demand for better experiences. A study performed by Forrester revealed what employees want in workplace apps: consumer-grade simplicity, social media-level personalization, and mobile-first experiences.
A Few Considerations When Designing For Enterprise Software
Design for the human experience (UX). Understanding your users and stakeholders and the path to meet their needs through qualitative and quantitative research is vital for a product to be successful. You need to understand “the why” to understand the needs and the problems you are solving.
Design with consistency. Look, feel and interaction should be consistent across the application. If one of them is out of sync throughout the product or with your brand you create a fragmented experience that will make it harder for emotional connection and continued use of your product.
Design for simplicity. The traditional mindset for navigation where “anything you want should be one click away” has changed. Now, the value is for information bubbled up to the top of the UI interface, and content in context makes functions appear just at the right times.
Design for engagement. Gamification and emotional reinforcement aren’t just for video games. They have a place in Enterprise development. It may not be a badge reward system, but could be little moments stemming from good Interaction Design (IxD) such as an animation that is both organic and humanistic in nature can create surprise and delight.
Design for the right channel. In a study performed by Forrester, half of the employees simply want information delivered to them in a way that is optimized for the tools and devices (from mobile devices and web browsers to email and Slack channels) they already use.**
Design for personalization. People crave personalization. A study performed by Forrester revealed 30% of employees want personalized notifications of tasks that need to be completed and another 28% of employees believe a personalized feed of individual actions and updates would improve how employees leverage, access and take action on information.**
Build on the right framework. Software framework selection represents a critical technological pivot in an organization. Whether a framework relates to data, server-side code or presentational layer, the implications of adoption will be long-lasting and can represent great productivity wins or years of tech debt. For more information, read Solution Framework Decision: Productivity or Tech Debt? written by my colleague Julian Flaks.
Use an agile process to reduce risk. There is a reason why most people have moved away from waterfall to an agile process. Agile process risk mitigation is achieved through cross-discipline teams, sustainable and predictable delivery cadence, continuous validation by the user, and sound engineering practices.
*Source: Flurry Analytics, comScore, Facebook, NetMarketShare. Note US. Dec 2016