The hidden reason why enterprise software user experience (UX) stinks


And how you can fix it – if you have the willpower

The golden age of User Experience might be dawning. Between Apple envy and a stream of ROI studies, there’s some chance your CEO will wake up any given Tuesday with a case of Great Design fever. At last.

Your external products, and your internal apps and systems as well – everything should have a sexy, consumer-goods-quality interface!

Here’s the problem: The data.

Data – the information in the requirements document for every application – is inextricably intertwined with how the business works.

That means you cannot give your enterprise apps a sparkling consumer-friendly design without addressing the underlying organizational issues.

And that’s the hidden reason why enterprise software UX stinks.

Some executives at enterprise product providers say “We want to build the new Amazon model – we want our customers to shop for IT services and products like they would at Amazon,‘” says Baruch Sachs, Senior Global Director of Human Factors Design at Pegasystems. “The problem is, you aren’t Amazon.”

Sachs’ career has spanned work on UX for numerous industries, including IT products and military systems. He explains that the companies who deliver great User Experience are the ones willing to do the hard work on underlying business processes and sometimes even organizational structure.

You probably know you aren’t Amazon. Sachs explains the implications of being something else:

If you’re JP Morgan [for example], you aren’t ‘a bank’. You’re an amalgamation of different businesses, including dozens of other banks that you’ve acquired,” he says. And for most companies, that translates to applications used by different groups with different workflows and data requirements. “So you have tons of data integration layers massaging the data.

It also means that the interface for a single application is often serving many masters.

Fixing UX

A bit of good news: UX is a topic where everybody wants to weigh in. So Sachs says if you can’t get multiple stakeholders to sit still for a technical architecture meeting (and you probably can’t), you can rest assured that all stakeholders will show up – with an opinion – for a UX discussion.

With everyone in the same room, the next step is often to identify the data that everyone needs – the critical set that meets 80 percent of everyone’s requirements. That data lands on the main screen for the application in question. “It’s painful sometimes – but you have to start looking at the data they really need, working from real requirements,” according to Sachs.

Other data that is critical to one group but not the others may be “hidden” one click away from the top level of the app. “That’s very reasonable for certain types of data that not everbody needs to see – we just don’t need all that data on the screen all the time,” he notes.

Then you get more detailed after that. “We’re getting the data from this database – can we update that database, move the data to a different system of record, write something in the integration layer so you don’t have jagged fields – that’s where a lot of work goes.

Result? Applications that are simpler and cleaner – still perhaps not Dropbox – or iOS-simple, but more usable and effective than before.

Quitters never prosper

Getting to the next level requires addressing functional silos in a more fundamental way. Organizational change being hard and systems rationalization being expensive, another common misstep is for companies to look for a reduction in manpower as ROI for the work. A simpler front end means fewer people will be required to maintain the back end, goes the reasoning.

But It turns out they can’t reduce staff behind this streamlined interface,” says Sachs. “It’s more work to deliver that simple product. There’s complexity on the back end to deliver simplicity on the front end.

And when that realization lands, Sachs notes that many organizations lack the willpower required to make these improvements.

They realize they don’t just have a data problem, they have an organizational problem,” he observes. “At that point many companies quit – they just say, ‘Well, make it work as best we can.‘”

“The only companies who are successful at achieving consumer-grade UX are the ones who are willing to invest and streamline the organization and data,” Sachs concludes.

(article by D.C.Slater)

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