Checking your watch confirms what should have been a relatively simple task has now stretched into hours of your life wasted. The impossibly long wait time gives you time to reflect on how you’ve spent half of it in the wrong area only to be unapologetically redirected to another.
If that scenario sounds like it could be describing either a trip to the DMV, or a day of navigating through your company’s enterprise application, you’re not alone. The enterprise app, from a usability perspective, has been regarded in much the same way as a DMV. Everyone has to use it at some point, but it’s not enjoyable for anyone involved.
There is, however, good news. As lifestyle applications emerge that train users to expect a higher bar of usability, enterprise application design must rise to meet that bar. So, what steps should we be taking to facilitate this higher standard?
MIND THE GAP: UNDERSTAND THE HURDLES FOR ENTERPRISE APPLICATIONS
“What I love about the consumer market that I’ve always hated about the enterprise market is that we come up with a product, we try to tell everybody about it, and every person votes for themselves. …if enough of them say “yes”, we get to come to work tomorrow.”
– Steve Jobs – D8 Conference
As with gap analysis, getting to where you want to be involves understanding how you got to where you are. How did we end up in this quagmire of bloated, unforgiving systems when there is a vivid, green pasture of consumer applications that are tripping over one another to cater to our every desire? As mentioned by Steve Jobs, when your audience is voting with their wallets and you’re counting on those votes to open your doors the next day, a user-centered design process is essential. The stakes are high and the user-experience is emotion driven.
In enterprise design, the decisions typically come from sources outside of the realm of the end-user. Business units operating as silos within corporations may have competing expectations. Company IT policies or financial entities may make decisions based on development time and resources without considering the ROI of a proper, user-centered approach. The end-result, traditionally, has been software that, while functional and satisfying the required business objectives, do little to appeal to the end user and their pain points. These are the users that will be touching the product every day, charging into the fray of confusing forms, dead end user flows, and useless or confusing analytics. They are the users that have sat through the weeks of training required to navigate the confusing system. They are the users because they have no other choice.
POINTING YOUR APPLICATION TOWARD GREENER PASTURES
However, a walled system doesn’t have to be a prison. The lasting legacy of Steve Jobs’ approach toward appealing to the user is that, increasingly, companies are starting to see the value of a solid user experience in their enterprise systems. Companies are not only increasing their budget toward user research, but when it comes to making business decisions they are saving a seat at the table for those with an understanding of UX. A streamlined business model leads to a streamlined system and any question of the worth of a well-executed user experience is immediately apparent. NN/G shows that the estimated ROI of an early focus on usability is over 80%, and that doesn’t even account for the value behind a satisfied employee user base. Conversely, addressing problems to a system after launch is 100 times more expensive than if the user was at the forefront of design decisions from the beginning.
Granted, there are hurdles in bringing any company’s enterprise system up to par with today’s user standards. The tasks involved in acquiring proper user research may stretch the typical enterprise application budget. However, the consumer application market is an ever-churning source of data when it comes to examining approaches to traditional user patterns. We can leverage these findings, break them down to understand the fundamental elements that are succeeding within the B2C environment and work toward implementing these elements into the enterprise application experience. The more we can replicate, and even improve upon, these elements within the enterprise, the closer we come to bridging the gap between the enterprise and consumer application.