By Dan Matthews, CTO at IFS
Everyone appreciates a website or application (app) that is attractive, accessible, and easy to use.
In 2016, Walmart undertook a massive redesign of its user experience (UX) and ecommerce platform, resulting in 214 percent growth in digital visitors. Bank of America did the same with its banking registration process and increased sign-ups by 45 percent. These consumer-oriented success stories, and others, show an unmistakable link between providing opportunities for user engagement and profitability.
Consumer-facing businesses have long understood the importance of a seamless online experience, so making updates to their online properties to enhance usability is a no-brainer. In fact, the consumerization trend—wherein businesses reorient their products to better fit the workflow of today’s consumers—has now raised the bar for what we expect of our business applications. For example, use of mobile devices and chat applications are two trends that are informing users’ expectations of their enterprise software.
“Mobile first” has become a common UX strategy for consumer software.
According to a survey conducted by Pew Research from September 29, 2016 through November 6, 2016, about three-quarters of U.S. adults—77 percent—say they own a smartphone. And because we use smartphones for everything from banking to social media, we’ve come to expect a similar level of usability from our enterprise software tools.
That’s why implementing responsive designs that adapt across platforms and screen sizes to allow various mobile devices to interact with business software is a priority for many organizations. Although the majority of work is still done on laptops and desktops in enterprises, mobile has to be an equal possibility for users. So, whereas mobile first might apply for a number of specific business processes within enterprise software, mobile as a choice applies to all processes.
Swiping Right Just Feels . . . Right.
Popular social networks like Facebook, What’s App, and Instagram are mainstream. As a result, people have come to expect abbreviated conversations, swiping right on their smartphones, and chat applications. They no longer have the patience for a full-blown conversation, and have begun to expect this quick interaction from enterprise software, as well.
Delivering an intuitive, clean, and visually appealing UX that allows quick actions without going through too many steps before performing a task is a must. Some enterprise software companies are now enabling customers to interact with via social networking services to accommodate this demand.
Survey Says: Enterprise Software Usability Impacts the Bottom Line
Together with emerging technologies such as augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), voice activation, and new ways to personalize enormous flows of data, enterprises are using top consumer trends to redefine the enterprise software user experience. And the potential impact will be huge.
According to an IFS usability study, of more than 200 enterprise software users in industrial companies, there is a strong correlation between digital transformation and software usability. Respondents who said their enterprise software prepared them for digital transformation, for example, were 400 percent more likely to say their enterprise software was very easy to use.
Software usability also affects employee retention among experienced staff. In the same IFS survey, almost 46 percent of the middle-aged demographic would consider changing jobs due to poor enterprise software usability. Employees are actually considering leaving their jobs because the software they work with is difficult to use.
This trend has been building for quite some time, as evidenced by a Deloitte study from 2012, which reported that incorporating usability into the redesign of a client’s ERP systems led to a 300 percent increase in worker productivity, a 55 percent reduction in training time and a 21 percent improvement in upsell and cross-sell. It is apparent that there is a close correlation between business success and software usability on the enterprise market as well.
Top Trends in Consumerization of Enterprise Software
Enterprise software companies looking to improve UX, and therefore their bottom line, should consider the following design elements, personalization; voice and chat UX; virtual, augmented, and mixed-reality becomes a UX
Rapidly increasing data volumes within organizations have made it even more urgent to personalize information and make it available at a glance. The CEO needs top-level financial data whereas the service engineer may need the latest asset status from the asset that they are working on and maybe even the customer they are servicing. Role-based user interfaces have been developed to meet these individual needs. When paired with new technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, the role-based interface can also become intelligent, predicting how you want your personalized interface displayed and automatically adapting what information is shown, for example depending on the device you use and how much is practical to display. The future user interfaces will be smart and evolve to learn from your past actions and preferences.
Voice and Chat UX
UX does not just have to be visual forms and lists. Consumer-focused interfaces, such as Alexa, Cortana, and Siri have accelerated the adoption of voice and chat as an interface in the enterprise arena as well. The benefits are clear; you can search for data and perform tasks within your system using voice or chat through Skype, messenger, or any other channel instead of having to use a dedicated enterprise application and click through endless menus and structures. This provides vital benefits for casual users, who can interact in a more convenient way, and for professionals such as service engineers, who can use their hands when repairing an asset while searching for instructions using their voice.
Virtual, Augmented or Mixed-Reality Becomes a UX
Moving us even further beyond screen display or voice notions of UX is the growing take up of AR and VR. Since its start ten years ago, AR has matured quickly. Companies like XMReality offer AR remote guidance, where field service experts can help maintenance engineers in the field solve complex problems as if they were physically present. Such technologies have gone from being exploratory R&D projects to mature solutions extraordinarily quickly, and it will not take long before we see broader adoption.
Another opportunity to leverage these technologies is through mixed reality, which combines AR and VR using devices such as the Microsoft HoloLens. Imagine service engineers who can visualize data from the business software directly on an asset that is to be serviced via their safety glasses. This will make it possible to work on repairing the asset with both hands, while having the service instructions right in front of their eyes! The intuitive, easy-to-use UX of mixed reality, combined with enterprise software data, could reshape how we think about enterprise UX in the future.
Better User Engagement
The technologies discussed in this article are in varying states of maturity; but it is clear that enterprise organizations are increasingly aware that UX correlates closely to user engagement. Increased workforce engagement is tied to improved performance, motivation, and persistence—not to mention effectiveness, time and cost savings, or the improved employer branding that advanced UX applications provide. And all of this results in increased profitability.
Dan Matthews is the CTO at IFS. In this role, his responsibilities encompass researching, formulating, and communicating the strategic direction of IFS Applications. Matthews leads the Research & Strategy unit, which includes IFS Labs. He also manages IFS’s technical partnerships with Microsoft, Oracle, and other players.