How to Solve the Business Software User Interface Quandary
Business (here I mean by enterprise) software is notorious for being hard to implement and difficult to use. This is a well-known problem and is very similar to a problem with SaaS software companies (which are also mostly B2B vendors) that my colleague Firas Raouf has pointed out in a recent blog post.
In contrast, consumer facing Web 2.0 applications are noted for their simplicity ease of use and intuitive user interface. Web 2.0 sites like Facebook (at least before they got really big), Twitter, Dropbox, Basecamp etc. get rocket-speed growth because they are mostly free, easy to sign up for and incredibly easy to use. It usually does not take more than 4-5 simple steps to get started in these applications, and the users can see an immediate output/value from using the applications.
With the prevalence of web 2.0 applications in our lives, more and more people expect to have the same easy-to-use experience in not only personal, consumer-facing applications but also in their day-to-day usage of business application software. However, the complex, extensible and multi-dimensional nature of enterprise software also cause them to be harder to use, harder to get set up and generally more intimidating to end users.
It is important to personalize the experience of the enterprise software user
In the past, personalization means endless “Customize…” dialogs with a bewildering amount of choices for shortcuts, buttons and commands (the Microsoft Office experience), but today personalization is less about choices but about smart tweaks and intelligent adjustment that is done by application designer a priori to use or by the application over time.
By personalizing I also mean making the user experience of each user dynamic and tailored to that user’s goals and needs with respect to the software. Furthermore, personalization also means adaption – the user interface experience changes over time to adapt to the pattern of usage by the user. Something as simple as a prominent displayed list of shortcuts to most commonly used features already adds a lot of ease to the user experience.
Of course, we cannot make enterprise-level software as simple as a Twitter-like interface, but we can make its components as simple as such, and personalizing the putting together of those components.
When it comes to product and development practices for software companies, there are definitely a lot to innovate and improve across the board, but with the rapid pace of evolution in the software world today, thanks to agile development methods, simply playing catch up in terms of feature sets no longer suffice. Business software vendors will have to compete by offering the best overall customer experience, and personalization will be a key paradigm in their quest for creating competitive advantage in the market.