by Nathan Brown

The revolution finally hits business software

Jan 24, 2018
Enterprise ApplicationsGraphic Design Tools

The last generation of business software was built by engineers. The next generation is being built by designers and engineers.

variety of devices web design
Credit: Thinkstock

Enterprise software has always been sold on features. Every publisher has the huge checklist that shows how their product checks all of the boxes and the competitors fall well short. The competitor has their own list of checkboxes that show them as being superior. RFPs (Requests for Proposal) go out with pages and pages of checkboxes. Software sellers then try to stretch every definition of a feature that they can to check all of the boxes. This arms race has led to the evolution of business software that was built from the ground up to check the most feature boxes. That era is coming to a close. We are realizing that ultimately, all of this software is built for people.

Apple and Steve Jobs were instrumental in changing the way we think about technology. The iPhone was about much more than how many features it had; it changed the way we experience technology. It changed what we expect from technology. This revolution has swept through the entire consumer product space. We are watching the re-invention of every experience around us from social interaction to buying groceries to driving a car. Albeit a little behind, this same concept is coming to enterprise software.

Good design is good business

Businesses are realizing that user-friendly, elegant design is a key to unlocking productivity. The archaic, ugly and kludgy systems of yesterday are becoming dinosaurs. Powerful, beautiful and thoughtful modern software is the meteor. This new breed of enterprise software empowers end users to solve their own problems and it reduces the friction between people and the critical data that is at the core of the modern enterprise.

Apple’s philosophy is permeating everything. Their user experience has become an industry standard to which all other devices and applications are compared. Originally intended for consumers, their devices are quickly making their way into enterprise and industry applications.

Reduced training time

One way to increase productivity is by reducing the training effort required to make someone productive. Legacy business software requires a lot of niche and tribal knowledge to execute properly. Un-natural interfaces were originally created from the perspective of what the system needs, not the user. This hidden cost reduces employee time to productivity. Modern, designed software, relies upon current conventions and gives the user an enterprise experience that is similar to what they already use every day. This allows new users to become productive much more quickly, reducing business friction.

Reducing error rates

As our day to day workflows increasingly depend upon business system data, the more expensive errors become. The commonly used 1-10-100 rule states that it takes 1 unit of effort to prevent a mistake, 10 times that to fix it once it is entered incorrectly, and 100 times that as the business impact for the error going undetected. Preventing errors at the time of entry becomes a huge cost savings. High quality, user-friendly interfaces at the point of action are giving us better access to and validation of our core business data.

In any complex system, like business software, most errors and failures can be traced to a human source. One of the benefits that great user experience delivers is the reduction of errors.

Good design on the shop floor

The ubiquitous smartphone has brought the cost of computing down precipitously while at the same time providing a platform for well-designed software. In industrial applications, for example, the smartphone is increasingly replacing the “big brick” scanner hardware. Executives who are on the fence about accepting iOS in the warehouse should account for this: Apple has spent billions on R&D making their hardware drop, water and dust resistant whereas the brick, with its limited market, received several million in R&D to develop. Modern computing platforms are a pre-requisite to enabling good design in the enterprise, and they are comparatively quite cheap.

All these things add up. Cost savings, increased productivity, reduced error rates and training time increase profitability. But if quantitative results alone aren’t enough to inspire change, then consider how a good WMS user experience increases quality.

Qualitative results

Research shows that millennials want to work for companies that embrace the way they use technology. Along those lines, young talent wants to work on fresh, modern systems that are sexy. Legacy business systems are neither fresh nor sexy. Companies that are using antiquated technology have a harder time finding talented people unless they go to the bottom of the barrel or offer higher pay.

Modern software that provides user engagement with beautiful design is the answer. It inspires employees to change their mindset from not just going through the motions of the job, but actually wanting to use the new system. Ugly, kludgy software is a drag. When employees are engaged, the business benefits.

In the new enterprise software eco-system, it’s about more than max feature set. The people must be able to engage with it in a way that is pleasing to use and aesthetically relevant.

With modern platforms, UI/UX designers are able to build business software in ways that were previously impossible. Users are used to spending a ton of time on their smartphones scrolling, tapping and swiping. These UX conventions have in 10 years become embedded in our culture. Legacy, Web 2.0 and character based UI’s are unnatural to the modern workforce. The last generation of business software was built by engineers. The next generation is being built by designers and engineers.