Enterprise UX has lagged behind consumer software in delivering a good user experience, but why has it been so slow to catch up, and what’s changing?
Clumsy and inelegant, enterprise software has lagged behind consumer apps for years. But given its large user base who must interact with enterprise software to complete tasks, why should it be any different from consumer-facing software?
In truth the reasons are varied, but key among them is the fact that the people buying and designing the software are not the people who are going to be using it. Enterprise software is designed to solve business problems, not personal ones. As long as this primary function is being achieved, often we see the user’s behaviours and needs being treated as an afterthought.
Interface design is often handled by developers, who often prioritise speed and the display of information over the holistic experience. In-house developers also face no competition — they have a captive market of people who are less likely to complain, while vendors only need to make something which is ‘good enough’ to sell — the standard for enterprise UX is so low that it simply doesn’t factor in much during sales negotiations.
Over the past decade enterprise software development has begun to slowly catch up with the consumer market. The advent and rise of BYOD practices mean workers need to access more data on a smaller screen, and now have personal and enterprise software sitting side-by-side on their devices. This has thrown the difference in quality of the UX between enterprise and consumer software into even sharper contrast. Users begin to repurpose consumer apps for business uses, breaching rules and compliance frameworks.
These developments prove that old justifications for the lack of UX investment were short-sighted. Without investment in UX companies are exposing themselves to many hidden costs, including higher employee training costs, inefficient use of the systems through data entry errors, more calls to help desks, more IT calls due to inappropriate usage of the system, and employees simply ignoring enterprise systems and using workarounds.
One of the greatest draws of the most popular consumer apps is their simple and intuitive interfaces and carefully thought out user experiences — people actually enjoy using them. Workers shouldn’t be made to use software ‘because it’s their job’; they should be attracted to it and want to use it.
Efficiency is another key reason. Why take 4 clicks to complete an action when a smarter system achieves it in 2 clicks? Intuitive interfaces let workers quickly familiarise themselves with enterprise products and navigate around easily. Better user interface features such as clear signposting mean that users are never stuck wondering what they’re supposed to do next in their workflow.
We aren’t advocating companies chuck all of their software out the window and start Snapchat-ifying their systems — software needs to cater to the specific needs of each business . From our experience, the best way forward is a fresh approach that balances business needs and user needs. This will no doubt need some new skills and perspectives; for many this will include hiring in new UX talent, and for others it will include bringing in external partners.
A movement to cloud based solutions is another step in achieving consistent experience, access and upgrade speed. Switching to stable, powerful cross-platform app development suites such as Xamarin can help mitigate the costs of improved, native apps without compromising on quality and performance.
Individual projects are a good place to start, companies are cautious to overhaul core systems without testing the waters first, but once a well-executed project makes its way into the hands of employees, the UX bug begins to spread throughout the organisation. The realisation that current standards shouldn’t simply be ‘par for the course’ leads to more and more workers and divisions of the company clamouring for an experience which finally matches that of their consumer-facing software.
UX shouldn’t simply be a ‘nice to have’ which gets tacked on at the end of a budget or project. UX design should be an integral part of the planning and strategy of a new enterprise system.
Examining the behaviours and workflows of users can unlock new insights into the efficiency and organisation of the workforce and company processes. Building better features leads to better engagement, better adoption, and better data on what the organisation is achieving.
In terms of efficiency, even shaving a few seconds off a common task adds up to minutes in a user’s day, and hours across an organisation’s workforce. In reality, given the current poor standard of the industry, a good enterprise UX will likely save much more than a few seconds. Administrative tasks such as data gathering and reporting can be dramatically reduced with the implementation of smarter and faster ways of finding the information which users are seeking, allowing them to focus more time on revenue generating activities.
The upward trend which we are seeing in larger organisations reaching out for assistance in building good UX into their projects and the increasing budgets allocated to UX are encouraging signs. But more needs to be done. It will be a slow process, but not impossible. The momentum is building and the next step is to move beyond the most forward looking organisations and bring quality enterprise UX to the wider market. Finally work may become, dare we say it, enjoyable.
Screenmedia are a UX design and innovation practice. Get in touch to find out how we can support you in becoming a more innovative company.