Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The User Experience of Enterprise Software Matters

UX in enterprise software ...

"Over the past twenty years, the field of user experience has been fortunate. Software and hardware product organizations increasingly have adopted user-centered design methods such as contextual user research, usability testing, and iterative interaction design. In large part, this has occurred because the market has demanded it. More than ever, good interaction design and high usability are part of the price of entry to markets.

However, there’s one area that I believe has lagged behind: the enterprise software space. I can’t tell you how many frustratingly unusable enterprise Web applications I’ve encountered during my 12 plus years in corporate America. As important as the user experience of enterprise software is to a business’s success, why isn’t its assessment usually a factor in technology selection?

Just as the mass market has demanded and is receiving more usable products, so should businesses demand that their technology vendors make their software easier to learn, more efficient to use, and easy to remember. But for a variety of reasons, many organizations don’t even know how to make this demand.

Consider this column a call to action to organizations that buy enterprise-level software. Here’s what I have to say to them:

Your technology selection processes are incomplete. You’re not assessing the usability of the technology you buy. You’re not only incurring huge hidden costs because of this failure to assess usability, you’re letting enterprise technology vendors get away with building products with poor usability.

The rest of this column explains why this happens and what enterprise technology purchasers can do about it.

Enterprise Software

Enterprise software products are complex, powerful tools. Their complexity is one of the reasons businesses sometimes fail to fully realize the expected return on investment from these products.

For enterprise employees, who must use these enterprise applications, this complexity poses a considerable challenge. When an organization deploys an application, it expects users to learn the new system, integrate it into their existing work processes, and become proficient enough to allow the organization to realize the system’s full benefits. Far too often, however, enterprise employees find these new systems hard to learn, hard to master, and difficult to integrate into existing processes.

Enterprise software, which broadly encompasses functions such as enterprise resource planning and management, customer relationship management, supply chain management, network management, project portfolio management, and business intelligence, is a multi-billion-dollar-per-year industry. Well-known vendors include BMC, Oracle, SAP, Siebel, and telecommunications equipment manufacturers such as Nortel and Cisco, to name a few.

Most Fortune 500 companies have multiple enterprise software products installed, and many mid-sized business are either actively considering or have implemented enterprise solutions. As the market has matured and vendors have searched for new growth opportunities, enterprise software developers have made solutions available to even small businesses with fewer than 100 people."    (Continued via UXmatters, Paul J. Sherman)    [Usability Resources]

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