The difference between a product UX strategy and an enterprise UX strategy
When you read the title of this blog, you might wonder what the difference is between product UX strategy and an enterprise UX strategy. It is quite likely that you have never even heard of this distinction, though I believe it is important to talk about it.
The thing which inspired me most to write this blog was a great article by Jaime Levy posted in Linkedin, called “What is UX strategy?”. In this article, Jaime talks about how a good UX strategy can help to build a product. In her example, it is a consumer-facing website with a DB back end and a valuable information structure applied. The article also reflects on how important it is to not just know the users, but to really know what they want and what they need.
I fully agreed with what she said. At the same time though I had to admit that when I talk and blog about UX strategies, I’m talking about a completely different animal. Why is this?
It’s quite simple because there are two different parties out there talking about the topic of “UX strategy” from completely different perspectives. When I talk about UX strategy, I mean the strategy that an enterprise has to come up with in order to improve the user experience for their users in the company. When others like Jaime talk about UX strategy, they talk about creating consumable (software) products.
I think this motivates many discussions and complaints about user experience in enterprises, because these two worlds are often mixed up.
Another thing that ultimately convinced me to write this blog was when I met Dan Barton and Gilson Teixeira from the SAP partner “BluestoneX”. They have put together some really good material about user experience strategies and often use the term enterprise UX. In the beginning, I was not sure about how introducing an additional name to the UX environment would make a difference. But in this post, I would like to show you that it actually does.
What is a product UX strategy?
Please let me quote what Jaime said, because this really hits the nail on the head:
“UX strategy is the process that should be started first, before the design or development of a digital product begins. It’s the vision of a solution that needs to be validated with real potential customers to prove that it’s desired in the marketplace. Although UX design encompasses numerous details such as visual design, content messaging, and how easy it is for a user to accomplish a task, UX strategy is the “Big Picture.” It is the high-level plan to achieve one or more business goals under conditions of uncertainty.”
The major goal of a UX strategy made for the development of a product is to have a product with the best possible user experience. This user experience is required in order to increase both the adoption of the product and the happiness of the users.
Before we move onto discussing what an enterprise UX is, I would like to underline a very important point. In the case of a (consumer) product, it is the consumer, in other words the end user, who buys and/or adopts the product. As a result, the user selects a product that correlates with most of his/her needs. It is obvious that this user will be much happier based on this fact.
As we all know, SAP also develops products. To do this, SAP has its own SAP UX Strategy.
What is an enterprise UX strategy?
A key fact of users in an enterprise is that they usually don’t buy and adopt the software themselves. Instead, the choice of which software to use, and how to customize it, is made by others. In the worst possible case, the people who make this choice don’t consult in any way with the real end users.
But there are more facts to consider:
- IT operation is based on an IT strategy, which ultimately serves a business strategy
In each enterprise, there is (hopefully) an IT strategy in place. This strategy defines the enterprise-specific rules, regulations and goals, and sets the boundaries for the IT operation. I think the most obvious aspect of this is security. As an end user, you are normally not the best person to judge how a given software solution will impact the security of your enterprise’s IT environment.
- IT operates a lot of products
Usually, a set of software solutions is used in an enterprise in order to support the business in running its processes. Ideally (from my perspective as an SAP employee), this software is provided by SAP. We can, however, assume that there is a larger set of SAP and non-SAP products being used together in a harmonious mix. Some of them might be integrated with each other. Some of them are on old versions that might not support the most recent enhancements. Others might be modern, but are connected with older systems that need to be updated first. I have to admit that the CIO of an enterprise has a huge task keeping track of all the dependencies in the enterprise’s IT landscape.
- The CIO’s target is to support the business
Another highly important point to consider when talking about enterprises is this: The ultimate target of almost every business is to make money. In an enterprise, the question of whether or not to make user experience a priority is a business decision. If you develop a product, user experience is without question a major driver of your success. Depending on the enterprise strategy, it is the business that decides the value of any investment. As people with an interest in UX, we will of course try hard day in day out to make the values of a good UX crystal clear. Ultimately though, neither we nor the end-users in the enterprise get to decide where investments are made.
An enterprise UX strategy has to consider the best possible user experience under specific conditions and boundaries related to the specific enterprise, its business strategy and its IT landscape.
Is a great user experience unimportant in enterprises?
Of course not. We know that there are a great many arguments for why UX improvements are of value for an enterprise.
With this in mind, I warmly recommend all CIOs to take a closer look into UX. If you are wondering why the software products you have adopted are not well accepted by your users, you probably have an UX issue.
So let me repeat my point once more: “User experience is important to every single enterprise”.
Creating a product versus extending a product
I trust that most readers are familiar with the general options for improving the user experience in an enterprise as illustrated in the graphic below:
We can assume that the majority of customers have chosen SAP because they were looking for standard software that helps them to make their business more efficient and profitable. Obviously, these customers are looking for SAP software that they can directly adopt. To customize the SAP software to specific business needs, they also accept to adapt it accordingly. Developing their own applications based on the given SAP platforms might not be an option for many.
As a result, it is fair to say that in most cases an enterprise UX strategy will focus pretty much on the improvement options “adopt” and “adapt”. The fact that SAP has won the Red Dot Award for its next generation SAP Fiori UX design concept demonstrates that adopting SAP software is a valuable and trustworthy path to improve user experience. There are also a number of tools, in particular SAP Web IDE and SAP Screen Personas, that easily support the adaptation of SAP software where required.
Of course, there are also customers who will agree to “developing” their own applications. In cases like this, the main driver will be that a suitable standard SAP application is not available to meet the customer’s needs. As this blog deals with the difference between enterprise and product UX strategy, it could be argued that developing an application in an enterprise is also a kind of software product development. While this is basically correct, I would add that this development also has to consider the boundaries of the enterprise and does not have the goal of creating a product as such (it will not be put on the market and be sold for example). It has the same purpose as all other investments in the enterprise: to improve the business.
I think it is fair to describe development in an enterprise as being an “extension”, as illustrated in the graphic below.
Why is it so important for us to grasp this distinction?
I believe it is important to understand that a UX strategy has two different flavors, driven by different business goals, visions and environments. This explains why product designers (and not just software product designers) sometimes don’t understand why a user environment for a business user is actually different. It also explains why (enterprise) users might think their SAP user interface is substandard and that we always need to consider the restrictions of a software solution before judging on the quality of a user experience.
I created the table below as a quick guide to the difference between the enterprise UX strategy and the product UX strategy. There are of course more aspects that could be added, but I think that I have covered all of the most relevant ones. Please let me know if you have a different view. Maybe we can use the comment section to discuss and improve this.
Does that mean that Design Thinking is not relevant for me in an enterprise?
I noticed in talks with customers that some of them are not particularly interested in design thinking. And I assume that some of you have noticed this too. But what does that mean for us? Is the bottom line of this that Design Thinking is not relevant?
In addition to this question, there is one statement that holds true in all cases: “You need to know your users in order to provide the maximum valuable environment for their work”.
As mentioned above however, most customers will look into their options to adopt a product or functionality first. In this case, I can understand that people are not greatly interested in working through a fully-fledged design thinking process. There are aspects of design thinking that make a lot of sense in this case however, example being building “personas” or performing “user research“. But again, whether to invest time and effort in this is a business/management decision.
In fact, it is clear in a product UX strategy that decision makers put as much effort as possible into understanding the user base. It is obviously ideal to involve end users in the process of designing the visuals and interactions, building prototypes and do lots of validations. Design thinking provides exactly this process.
When talking about UX strategies, it makes sense to make clear right from the start what the focus of the strategy is. Is the focus to develop a product or to improve the user experience in an enterprise?
In the context of SAP, you will find both aspects.
- SAP develops products and therefore has its own product UX strategy, known as the SAP UX Strategy
- Customers want to improve the way their end users experience the software and their whole working environment. In this case, an enterprise UX strategy is needed, also known as a Customer UX Strategy.
The separation into two aspects avoids miscommunication and misinterpretation, especially when people with a focus on a product UX strategy talk with people with a focus on an enterprise UX strategy. Both have different boundaries that define their vision and goals, and drive their decisions.
As always, I’m very keen to find out what you think. Let me know in the comments section!
All the best,