Enterprise software as it is known today is evolving from a system of records to an intelligent enterprise, mainly driven by the two super forces Digital Economy and Artificial intelligence. Where Artificial Intelligence is moving the needle in terms of process automation and decision support within the enterprise process, the Digital Economy transforms the user experience by offering entirely new ways to humanize the interactions with the digital core, offering superior experience, by allowing employees to do business with the same tools they use to order pizza. In the nature of a transformation, some IT Vendors will lead the pack, some follow, others fall behind. Designing the user experience in the new era of enterprise software requires to question how things have been done in the past, and also to rethink the processes of how software is defined.
For the last decade enterprise software was designed along with the thoughts of transactions (aka document flows). Product Manager and UX Designer structured and visualized the Business processes similar to that flow chart example:
As an important aspect of the design is the distribution of work (some prefer the term “persona”), which determines which of those documents are required and defines their granularity with the intention to optimize the handshake between roles. In small companies often one person wears many hats, on the other side in a large enterprise task are split into smaller slices in order to distribute it better across departments. Given the process definition, every step is broken down into a list view, an overview page and a set of actions to copy data to the next step, which is controlled by the status of the document and is guiding the user along the end-to-end journey. Some “plug-like” looking icons indicate possible extension points, allowing 3rd parties to build extensions against this process, e.g. integrating a commerce site or a VoIP. That’s how software was designed over the last decade, accompanied by different methodologies, such as Design Thinking, to help designers and product managers to get it right.
The game is changing
Although the term “digital transformation” is wearing off, there is one thing that’s here to stay, it’s that all the technologies around the traditional enterprise software are working together, changing the way how we interact with business software. The strength of this digital storm moved beyond the buzz and is already too strong to fade away. The exponential growth of smart applications in the digital economy continues to soak user interactions away from the keyboard and traditional data entry forms, as they have been used over the last decade, into consumers like applications, the Siri’s, Alexa’s and Slacks of this world. Those applications
Millennials lead the change
In 2025, it’s predicted that 80% of the workforce will be millennials, entering a time where millennials begin to dominate the global workforce and making IT-purchasing decisions it’s important to acknowledge that those “native digitals”, grown up with smartphones and instant messaging, which makes those as a table stake for enterprise software in the workplace. Established technology companies need to get ready to engage them as leaders and serve their needs or quickly fall to the bottom of the pack.
Rethink design principles
Smartphones, instant messaging and voice commands are tailored for bite-sized interactions, actions that can be completed in seconds by utilizing free minutes on the go. Therefore, not all enterprise processes are suitable to be consumed via smart devices, as squeezing the typically exhaustive interactions on a mobile screen is a safe path to failure. Although a few business processes, such as approvals, task management, and leave requests have a natural fit, the majority of the business flows requires to be re-designed into snackable pieces to fit the new design paradigm and ultimately unleash a superior usability by unleashing the stickiness of the digital economy, allowing the user to use tools they love to use.
In the battle and excitement of embedding sexy consumer-style applications into the boring back office, it is easy to lose focus on the why – the business value. In the context of enterprise solutions, the value basically comes down to productivity and efficiency, which remains unchanged in the digital world, it’s all about getting work done in a faster or better way. Even the core user-needs remain the same, we have to acknowledge the technology and user preferences are changing, which is impacting the way how efficiency is achieved. The new generations are not an only digital native, but also tend to multi-tasking and are 24/7 on. Those employees prefer to utilize free minutes doing a transaction or a part of it whenever and wherever it feels right. The previous generations of solutions achieved efficiency to a big extend via keeping a user focused on a certain task for a longer period of time, which was achieved by introducing UX patterns to support mass processing, such as Spreadsheet import or bulk actions, which was (and still is) represented by checkboxes in list views to select multiple lines and trigger a mass action, which is without doubt highly efficient and remains helpful for the next decade but won’t be sufficient to survive the digital era.
Obviously, this is not a ground-breaking finding, businesses have always added new tools to optimize processes and increase operational efficiency, but the increased pace of the digital universe has accelerated, and we are approaching the tipping point, where the interactions outside the core become mainstream. The smart applications move into the center of the user, which requires them to become an integral part of the design considerations from the beginning, instead of an afterthought. Given that millennials have grown up with digital tools, they will naturally lead the way when it comes to digital transformation in the workplace, by instinctively using that tools to improve productivity and workplace culture, as it was since ever integral to the business landscape.