Several enterprise applications have seen a dramatic improvement of user experience in the last decade. They are dead simple to use, have a short learning curve and in some cases as enjoyable to use as the other consumer products like Facebook that the everyone has come to like.
Several articles have been written on why this is happening and how startups in the enterprise space have threatened legendary enterprise software companies with much better user experience as the key differentiator. Below are a few examples of such articles.
The Consumerization Of Enterprise Software
A few years ago, I remember that I tried using Salesforce for the first time. When I first interacted with the product…
4 Consumerization Trends That Are Changing Enterprise Software as We Know It
Enterprise software is in the midst of a revolution. In the early 2000s, businesses were the primary users of…
So, I am not going to write more about why we see this but rather try and articulate how an enterprise software company can improve the user experience of their products using these key guiding principles
Guiding principles to consumerize enterprise software
- First 24 hours — Quick start, flawless, guidance and support
When you buy a car or download a consumer app, the time and effort to start using the product is very minimal. You can start using a product in minutes.
Unlike that, enterprise applications often require extensive install, setup and configuration. Thankfully cloud hosted products completely eliminate the overheads of installation. However, initial setup, license management, integrations with the customers systems and creating base configurations could take up significant time. Errors or delays during this initial phase will negatively impact user experience, perception about the product and in turn the customer loyalty.
Utmost care should be taken to make the initial experience quick, flawless and enjoyable. Provide as many default options as possible to help user get started quickly. Identify all potential issues that might arise and provide guidance to address these. This guidance should be part of the user interface and not inside documentations. Most users don’t read documentation before trying to use the product. Good to provide customer support at this point to assist users if they need any.
2. 80:20 Simplicity
Every enterprise customers has some unique needs that are not addressed by the core product offering. The customers demand these unique features be built, in order for them to buy or license the software. The result is an extremely bloated product that is feature rich but difficult to comprehend, difficult to learn and complex to use. This also creates a need for extensive help and documentation that a user must go through first to be able to use the product. No one wants to read help and documentation or listen to training videos to use a product!
a. Core product and plugins model: This is where the 80:20 rule should kick in. The product should be architected and offered as a core product with possible add-ons or plugins. The core product should cover the features that 80% of the users need and the rest are available on a need basis. This approach helps to keep the core product simple for all users and they can explore and learn the other features on a need basis and as they graduate from novice to advanced users.
b. Simplify object hierarchy and the object relationship: Very often several objects like policy, campaign, rules, profile, and configuration templates, object groups, schedules and so on, are created so that configurations and settings can be reused. However this often results in a complex object hierarchy and a complex object relationship, that the user needs to first understand, before objects can be created and used to achieve a specific business goal. The workflows also tend to get longer and complicated. Such object models should be avoided where absolutely not necessary. Alternative mechanisms like “copy attributes from” or “clone and modify” can be used to achieve reusability and workflow efficiency.
c. User language instead of engineering jargons: More often than not, enterprise products tend to expose the engineering terminologies, jargons and use abbreviations in the user interface. This increases the cognitive overload. Instead communicate to the user in simple, natural language that the user is conversant with.
I got this notification once while trying to redeem an insurance policy that had matured. How in the world would I know what 95A branch is. Should they not give me the address of the branch?
3. User intent model not the underlying complexity
Imagine having to drive a car where if you want to go faster you have to control three knobs, one to increase the fuel supply, second to adjust the fuel air mixture and third to increase lubrication to the pistons? Already sounds complex, right? Thankfully modern day cars only ask you to press the accelerator and they translate the user intent to appropriately modify the settings for fuel and air mixture.
Most enterprise software asks users to do go under the hood and do just this. The workflows often reflect how the underlying technology works rather than how the user thinks. Check out this blog post to see how we super simplified the Firewall rule creation by allowing users to define intent instead of having to define the underlying construct.
Reimagined firewall design, with user intent in mind, results in 500% improvement in productivity
co-authored with Rakesh Patwari, Lead Product Designer at Juniper
By doing this we are shifting the load from the user to the system. The system does the hard work of understanding the user intent and translating it into the underlying construct .
a. Eliminate the middlemen between the decision makers and the system: Another huge business advantage of the user intent model is that the decision makers can now eliminate the middlemen. Let me explain. When it comes to network security a team of experts define what the security posture should be, or what the security intent should be. They then get help of highly skilled Security administrators to translate the intent to several rules that need to be defined at the firewall. Often this task is outsourced to an external agency. Similarly in case of Marketing Automation products, the marketing team decides how they want to target users across various devices and channels. However the actual task of defining marketing campaigns in a marketing automation product is done by another set of users, who are good at using the tool.
Wouldn’t it be nice, just like the consumer products, if the users who define intent are also able to define it easily in the product, without having to rely on someone else to translate their intent into actions.
4. Performance and Efficiency of use
Just because its part of a user’s job to use an enterprise software, does not mean that users love spending countless hours on the software. They use the software to achieve a goal and faster they get it done, more time they get to do other things. At the very least it gives them more time to spend with their family and friends.
Enterprise software should leverage every opportunity to improve efficiency of use, ie reduced number of steps, reduced time required to complete a task, reduced errors and iterations.
Here are a few tips that can be borrowed from consumer software
a. Provide Out of the box settings and configurations to help users get started quickly.
b. Minimize the amount of information asked from the user.
Pre- select default selections and pre-populate values in every workflow.
c. Optimize every click during a workflow.
Given that users perform these several times everyday, every click counts. More so every click saved hundred times over saves a lot of time and effort
d. Manage scale by providing personalized experiences to every user based on declared interests or past behavior. Example of declared interests is one where the user has tagged objects as “favorites”, while showing recent history or most interacted objects are simple examples of inferred interest.
5. Helpful recommendations using crowd sourced intelligence and Machine learning.
Most novice enterprise users lack confidence to take decisions or make choices that have significant impact on the business. Leveraging data to make smart recommendations can go a long way in helping users make informed decisions, simplify decision making and build confidence.
6. Less reliance on Help and Documentation
Extensive documentation is written for enterprise products and there are dedicated teams to write this. This while essential for troubleshooting, should not be assumed as something that the user has to read in order to be able to use the product. No one in reality wants to read and we have seen through several eye-tracking studies that users don’t even read the static text within the UI.
Products should be designed assuming no help and documentation exist. Attempt should be made to make the UI self explanatory and one that guides the user through the process.
Infotips and contextual help speeds up the learning curve
Embedding help inside the UI helps provide contextual help and reduce dependency on offline documentation
7. Aesthetics -Colors, Typography and Motion
Enterprise products need not be dull and boring. Good cheerful visual aesthetics, with useful animations that provide delight and joy can add a lot of value to a product that is used day in and day out.
I am not saying that Visual design is all about aesthetics, on the contrary its a lot more than that. Good visual design, good typography and good use of colors, help create a hierarchy making it easy to scan and consume information, differentiate between primary information and secondary information, provide affordance to interactions and lot more. A good topic for another blog post at another time ;-)
It still surprises me that several enterprise software products do not have a mobile or tablet version. Needless to say being able to do work, monitor progress and perform quick tasks, while on go is the need of the day.
In summary, enterprise product users are just like consumer product users, who desire, easy to learn, simple to use products that get their work done efficiently and flawlessly. Give them a consumer like experience and they will love your products as much as they love Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google and Uber