In April, the CEO of business application software provider Infor boldly said that enterprise software “sucks” and is “not fun to use” during a keynote speech. Indeed, his rather direct statement appears to echo a general consensus towards corporate technology.
The development of software-as-a-service and emergence of tech disruptors such as Facebook, Apple and Google is having a profound effect on attitudes to everyday enterprise IT. The focus now more than ever is on usability and convenience.
Users expect for modern technology products to just work – without requiring a training workshop or comprehensive manual to get started. In an enterprise environment, users are increasingly forthright in choosing and utilising their own software options if they find the enterprise option to be counterproductive. Many are refusing to use systems if the interface is too hard to use.
The low cost of storage space and computing power allow software vendors to create data analysis features that would have been impossible to even think about 10 years ago. Many vendors release a constant and steady stream of products that provide heightened technical functionality and plenty of embedded wizardry. Yet to the everyday user, most enterprise software hasn’t moved with the times and continues to be stuck in a design rut.
Playing catch up
Demand for easy-to-use software can be a real headache for many enterprise IT vendors. Turning old school enterprise software into modern design wonders is often close to impossible. A great user experience must be taken into account during the initial design process of the software and its architecture. It is very hard to repaint complex software to make it easy to use.
The key to creating software that is powerful and intuitive is a great user interface. It should display just the right amount of information and be easy to use, making everyday tasks more efficient and information easy to find. Well-designed software not only enhances the user experience but also allows the developer to make future improvements much faster. For Paessler, this is important given the growing list of feature requests we receive from customers and our desire to continue improving our PRTG Network Monitor as quickly as possible, in step with customer demand.
The UX Factor
In a blog, Todd McKinnon, co-founder and CEO of Okta, an enterprise grade identity management service, said for enterprise software particularly design is everything. He also claimed that “…hires in the field should be made early on in a company’s trajectory.” Okta’s fifth employee was a designer and McKinnon claims that its user interface continues to be favoured by prospects over competitors.
In the past, the code writers also created the user interface, purely because no one else could do it. Their view of the product was from the ‘inside out’ and their thinking was led by how the data is stored in the software architecture and then displayed. The expectation was that the user would adapt their thinking and behaviour to how the software was made to be used. However, this is proving not to be the case as the amount of choice and competition in the market has increased.
In my experience the best ‘hard core’ software developers are not the best UX people. Most developers I know have trouble with moving away from the complexities of the software infrastructure and getting into the mindset of an end user. Software vendors need a dedicated UX team who – together with the product manager – guide the developers to create the best user interface. UX designers must be able to understand the developers and the end user.
At Paessler, we look for developers with a broad range of experience, not just developer experience. We find that often, a developer educated in a field other than informatics can be quite a blessing, helping to break the traditional way of thinking when it comes to the design process. A software developer doesn’t necessarily need artistic skills; they can work with an experienced graphics person throughout the development process.
The more life experience a person brings in, the more creative the output can be. In our team, for example, we have a chemist, a biologist and others from broader backgrounds. This is also true for interesting hobbies, e.g. people interested in extreme sports. In the end, it is all about having a healthy mix of people with different characters.
Design is a vital element of software development and is much more than just pretty pictures and bold colours. These days, design dictates how a software product works and is just as vital as the coding behind the scenes.