Last year, I argued that many enterprise software vendors are missing the point when it comes to user experience. They aim to embrace user expectations by providing a user interface that looks good on the surface without considering how people want to work with it. Here, I want to take that thinking to the next level and share an approach that challenges the predominant thinking about the way people interact with enterprise software.
The Rise Of The Contingent Workforce
The reality is, most enterprise software users still don’t like the software they use daily to accomplish goals. And that’s just full-time staff. When you add the factor of fluent workforces and contingent employment, which require companies to increasingly rely on temporary employees, then user satisfaction becomes a serious problem.
More and more people are onboarded to contribute to short-term projects, making it disproportionally expensive to conduct weeklong software training so they can accomplish everyday tasks. This whips up the perfect storm for unhappy, unproductive and disengaged employees. The impact is felt on the bottom line, due to expensive user training and loss of productivity. When you are a people-centric services business, the burden on your staff matters even more.
The Elephant In The Room
With the transition of software into cloud, along with growth in software as a service (SaaS), we should have seen rapid changes to user experience already. We’ve witnessed an architectural transition that has morphed yesterday’s monolithic software architecture into a diverse software landscape, ranging from macro-services to micro-services to nano-services or serverless computing. This is good news. You’d expect that such fundamental changes to the underlying architecture of systems would have been the catalyst for a similar seismic upgrade of the end-to-end user experience.
Outdated user experience is the elephant in the room. We’re seeing a continued push from customers and the software industry itself toward a non-monolithic architecture. If user experience remains the single most important aspect of any software, why does it lag? Why hasn’t it undergone a similar transformation, broken down in micro-experiences? This is the future for ERP user experience.
Dismantling The UX Monolith
I believe that changes in the architecture of the software should be reflected in the user experience. Without it, we are failing in our duty to add value for users through our software. Below, I have listed the five key elements I believe need to be taken into consideration when either designing new user experiences or revisiting existing ones.
1. The software does the driving. Shift the flow of conversation. At the moment, enterprise software relies on the user to initiate the interaction. It sits there passively waiting to be asked. Let’s bring it to life. Users should be notified and invited to interact with the software instead.
2. Interactions are triggered by analytics. Today, enterprise software is constructed with a transactional mindset — a hangover from the early days of enterprise solutions, before data analytics was a key business driver. We need to move away from mechanical data maintenance to automation of data capture. Machine learning will provide the necessary shift to analytics-triggered interactions. Users will only get involved due to discrepancies in data or to oversee flows that require human intervention.
3. Purpose-built apps streamline UX. Today’s monolithic application structure of enterprise software, in most cases, requires users to initiate any interaction by actively logging into the application. They then must navigate an ever-increasing set of menus, screens and forms to accomplish their job. This is frustrating, inefficient and increasingly expensive. The future is focused task applications. As the name indicates, these are constructed with a single focus in mind: micro-experiences to solve a task. The user is carried directly to the task without having to battle through the old-style monolithic user interfaces.
4. User interfaces become a result of micro-service orchestration. Some users have a level of interface configurability, but generally, most users typically face the same experiences and interfaces no matter their roles and duties. All that’s about to change. Imagine if you could indirectly orchestrate your own user interface because the user interface of each individual micro-service was now an integral part of the overall service. These micro-services could then fulfill the business function and provide the required user experience. You could then create mash-up interfaces, where the interfaces dynamically change based on your specific needs.
5. Software will be helpful. Another downside of the transactional and data maintenance mindset is that rule-based engines enforce strict compliance protocols, which are extremely time-consuming. Of course, data integrity is vital. However, this truly mechanical task doesn’t need to sap the energy of users when it could be automated. Instead of a grumpy accountant who’s set in their ways, we should think of software as a friendly tour guide showing us the way. New algorithms based on machine learning will allow software to become truly helpful for the first time ever. It will nudge the user in the right direction by providing practical hints, suggestions and assistance in a timely and non-intrusive manner. It will become indispensable to productivity.
Tomorrow’s User Experience
My vision of the future is this: User interactions with enterprise software will move from rules-based to exception-based. Software will become pervasive; except when human intervention is required, it will offer a non-intrusive, lightweight experience, guided by focused task apps, like starting a conversation in a messaging pop-up.
Software will be constructed to take advantage of the latest innovation and progress within the field of artificial intelligence, like machine learning, providing the foundation for constructing smart automation, spotting discrepancies or inaccuracies and bringing them to the attention of the users. Machine learning algorithms will further the ability to make decisions on behalf of the user, based on patterns found in data.
The monolithic user experience will go the same way as the monolithic software architecture. It will be broken down into something simpler for today’s software user. The result is more fluidity at work. For people-centric organizations, this can only lead to a better level service where it matters most.