Consumer grade UIs in the enterprise
I read Jon Reed’s two blog posts on enterprise user experience, and it got me thinking.
Part 1: Is the enterprise user experience overhyped?
Part 2: Does the enterprise really need a consumer grade UI?
Then today I was following the VNSG Conference on twitter.
The feeling I had afterwards was this:
Wow. We are so entering phase now where enterprise user experience is stretched too far.
— Anne K Petterøe (@yojibee) April 3, 2014
I would say I have spent about an equal amount of time working with user experience in the consumer and the enterprise world. And I fear we are reaching an enterprise user experience overhype phase.
It started with the so called consumerization of IT.
BYOD introduced new devices and technologies to an enterprise environment.
Users wanted their enterprise applications to provide them with the same engaging and simple user experience they were used to from services like facebook, instgram, dropbox etc.
Consumerisation in fact made it all the way to SAP’s User Experience strategy:
“Provide new applications with consumer grade UX”.
“Consumerisation is the reorientation of product and service designs around the individual end user. New information technology often emerge first in the consumer market and then spread into business organisations, resulting in a shift in IT innovation from large businesses.”
And this is of course all good.
In fact, it is great. Especially for people like me. Finally I can take my passion for user experience and apply it to my equally big passion for SAP.
But you just cannot take consumer user experience and apply that 1:1 to enterprise user experience.
The two can and should learn from each other, but I think we need to be careful about hyping user experience and forget that there are core differences between consumer and enterprise applications.
Purpose-designed computer software designed to satisfy the needs of an organization rather than individual users.
Enterprises have a fixed number of users, but an ever growing business application need.
You need to interact with other users to complete a task.
Enterprise software is most often available as customizable programs.
Enterprise level software aims to improve the enterprise’s productivity and efficiency by providing business logic support functionality.
Productivity-focused. Functionality is king.
The goal is to complete tasks efficiently.
Are developed for individual users.
Consumer web is about scaling the number of users for a single applications.
You can complete a task without other individuals.
Consumer applications are (for the large part) not customisable.
The complexity is kept at a minimum and they don’t require specific knowledge.
Simple and engaging. Simplicity is king.
The goal is to make you satisfied.
Just to mention a few.
So when I keep seeing reading about how look and feel often is mistaken for usability and how methods from consumer UX is imported to the enterprise without critical thinking, I worry. Designing great applications for the enterprise requires both a generic view of the landscape, but at the same time having the right amount of details. IMO you won’t know every user and every detail about every workflow, so parts of the work needs to be knowing your users by proxy.
Creating interview-based personas is a great method for getting to know your users better.
But in the enterprise, because of customization the variations within one user profile can often be too big to generalize or summarize.
So in this case for instance, I would supplement (or maybe replace in some cases) my research with generic user profiles.
And the good old swimlane diagrams shouldn’t go out of fashion for visualising user role maps either.
We have already come a long way in a very short time. Who had thought we would have Fiori (free or not) 5 years ago?
And we definitely shouldn’t stop here.
But we need to keep in mind that good looking does not always mean smarter. And good looking will not necessarily help you complete the task at hand faster.