What Should the Enterprise UX Be Like?

By Michael Ashley, Director of Product Experience, Accellion — May 11, 2014

Leaps in consumer technology are causing mobile enterprise software to undergo a radical shift. End users like myself are accustomed to sleek apps and solutions presented to us by consumer-facing companies. So now, when we encounter a bulky enterprise offering, even if it’s a solid, well-established solution, we turn our noses up at it.
 
Software companies are taking note of this and trying to design solutions that look more consumer-esque on the front end, but they often operate the same way as before, which doesn’t improve the experience.
 
The key here is rethinking—it’s not about taking mobile enterprise software and making it easier to use, it's about completely rethinking and evolving the user experience.
 
Let’s use email as an example to highlight what companies need to consider:
 
How can you turn an impersonal solution into something personal for the end user? Outlook and Gmail began as traditional email delivery systems, but have evolved their solutions in very different ways. Google invested heavily in the way Gmail integrates with your conversations and contacts. Outlook, on the other hand, invested in beautifying the UI, without really exploring the future of connectivity. In the end, it's Gmail that continues to evolve and grow, while Outlook is losing market share in the enterprise.
 
How can you make a connection between two collaborators or two pieces of information meaningful? Mobile apps and chat like Snapchat or Dispatch are replacing email for many people. Rethinking how to integrate this connectivity into their solution will help email vendors like Gmail or Outlook.
 
How can you take something tedious and make it interesting or informative? New apps like Mailbox are turning email management and organization into a game; clean out your inbox by swiping away messages and you win.
 
The other key word here is "experience." Its not just about changing buttons and colors, it's about engaging with the user and creating an experience that performs the functions they need while still maintaining security of their data.
 
Solution providers should ask themselves:
 
Why do you need all the information you're asking for? Will it improve the user experience? Security doesn’t have to be a burden on the end user. Features like fingerprint recognition and remote wipe are making devices more secure without interfering with usability.
 
Are the values of your company reflected in the software, the help center, the literature and everything in between? Perhaps one of the companies most important to rethinking enterprise software is Zappos. Zappos has shown just how important it is to live and breathe world-class support. Traditionally, mobile enterprise software and enterprise software in general has catered to the IT teams. The end user was an afterthought.
 
The consumerization of IT has changed that paradigm. Now enterprise software providers must prioritize help systems, intuitive documentation and easy to understand tutorials. Mobile enterprise software providers need to take a page out of the Zappos-playbook, and move user experience beyond pretty buttons, and ensure that the end user is taken care of every step of the way.
 
Is it possible to show that you care about the user experience, through the details of the design, or the way you welcome the user? Another value that has changed the way we think about enterprise software is the obsession with detail perhaps best embodied by Steve Jobs.
 
Jobs famously obsessed about the presentation of everything, even things the consumer would likely never see, like the circuit boards. The same should be done with enterprise software. Show that you care about the user experience by making sure every button is aligned, every color is to spec, every icon is proportionate. Everything should be considered whether or not the end user will see it.
 
In order to truly rethink the user experience, you have to really listen to your customers.

Creating a customer persona is so much faster and easier than actually sitting down to talk with a real customer. But you can't get from a persona the feeling of frustration that might come from having to find the save button.
 
In order to rethink the way your enterprise solution operates, you need to understand what your customers need, and how your offering can fit seamlessly into their day-to-day activities.
 
Mobile enterprise software providers cannot rest on their laurels. What constituted good user experience even a year ago isn’t going to cut it now. Rethinking the user experience is just the first way you can start telling your customers that they are important.
 
The key is to understand that customers are expecting something different now, and bolting a new design onto an existing user experience is not going to cut it. Mobile software is already a critical part of most businesses, and will be even more important as we move to the “everything everywhere” enterprise predicted by Gartner, and it has to fit end-user needs, as well as security requirements from the IT department.
 
Because if you don't fundamentally evolve the user experience of your mobile enterprise software, the people who matter, your customers, will find their way to a competitive solution. And that’s not changing the enterprise experience, that’s just changing the enterprise provider. 

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