Gunjan Trivedi is executive editor at IDG Media. He is an award-winning writer with over a decade of experience in Indian IT. Before becoming a journalist, he had been a hands-on IT specialist, with expertise in setting up WANs. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
The drawback with using mobile devices as a model for user interface design is that it leads some CIOs to think that they can improve user engagement with enterprise software simply by making those transactions available to users on their smartphones and tablets.
Edward Tufte, information design guru, author and professor emeritus of political science, statistics and computer science at Yale University, once noted remarkably, “The most common user action on a website is to flee!”
That reaction holds true for corporate users with enterprise technology platforms that they have to deal with. Their reactions usually range from sharp discontentment—on milder side—to complete abandonment.
In an article on this subject in the Wall Street Journal, Jaco Van Eeden, a principal in the Digital ERP practice within Deloitte Consulting, referred to an example that he had once come across where in the procurement function of one major ERP system, a user had to complete about 36 steps just to go from creating a purchase requisition to issuing a purchase order!
Aren’t CIOs aware that densely-packed interfaces, endless screens to navigate, and non-intuitive workflows result in really bad user experience and sheer frustration?
Sure they are. But in the tug-of-war between software form and function, most CIOs have a natural inclination to the latter. User acceptance, hence, is largely dealt with using a mix of change management strategies that include an infinite number of training programs, a CEO’s diktat and result in an overworked helpdesk. All, ultimately, at the cost of organizational efficacy.
And, this is THE problem.
It is widely-known that the vast majority of CIOs are amazingly prepared to deliver efficient systems to address business needs. The complication is that they generally have little knowledge of what actually matters the most: User experience.
The ISO 9241-210 standard defines User Experience (UX)—a term that was popularized by user experience architect Donald Norman in the mid 90s—as a person’s perceptions and responses that result from the use of a product, system or service. According to the ISO definition, UX includes all the users’ emotions, beliefs, preferences, perceptions, physical and psychological responses, behaviors and accomplishments that occur before, during and after use. In fact, the ISO standard lists three factors that influence UX: Systems, users and the context of use.
Wikipedia quotes Jim Miller, principal of Miramontes Computing, stating that UX encompasses much more than the traditional ‘user interface’ issues, such as screen design and command structure. Rather, it’s a broad collection of user-centric issues that cut through the full extent of a project.
Improving user engagement with enterprise apps requires understanding users’ behavior and roles—how professionals in various job functions use different systems on a daily basis. It also requires providing them with a completely new, customized interface that integrates different systems they use and helps them work more effectively, according to Van Eeden in the WSJ article.
Van Eeden goes on to say that the proliferation of mobile devices in the enterprise is making CIOs more aware of the value of simple, intuitive user interfaces. However, the drawback with using mobile devices as a model for user interface design is that it leads some CIOs to think that they can improve user engagement with enterprise software simply by making those transactions available to users on their smartphones and tablets.
This approach is flawed, he says, because it takes a ‘system up’ rather than ‘user down’ method that focuses on transactions rather than the user’s experience. ERP systems’ emphasis on transactions is what has created so many of the usability problems plaguing employees today, Van Eeden points out.
An American computer scientist renowned for his pioneering work in virtual memory and the Chairman of Computer Science at George Mason University, Peter Denning says, “The old days when we could just go into the backroom and develop technology for the DOD are gone. Now we’re developing technology for my mother, and that requires a whole new set of skills.”
In my opinion, it’s just not new skills, but a new approach and the power of visualization that’s called for. Because that is exactly what a user wants to experience.