Like many knowledge workers approaching the age of 30, I grew up surrounded by the latest and greatest consumer technology. Websites such as Amazon, Facebook, and YouTube, along with the Android and Apple mobile operating systems have set the standard for what apps should look like and how easy they should be to use. Good or bad, this technology has also affected our attention spans; if we’re not engaged quickly, we’ll go somewhere else.
So, imagine my horror when I entered the workforce in tech support for a major bank and my very first call was about an application that looked like this:
Let’s unpack this a bit. This was written in a word processing application (not exactly the most stable of development environments) at some point before I was even born. It requires users to enter key commands to navigate, failing to make use of an incredible technological innovation — the computer mouse. It is also hosted locally, leading to significant downtime due to a combination of old software running on old hardware supported by an ever-shrinking team of specialists.
Did this application do the job? Sort of, provided it wasn’t compromised. Was it satisfying user experience (UX)? No. Did it encourage productivity? No. Did it look like any of the apps I used on my phone, personal laptop, or even other parts of my job at the time? Not at all.
Easy-to-use enterprise apps should be the rule, not the exception
While business leaders may be frustrated with shifting UX-pectations (see what I did there?) and shortening attention spans of digitally native employees, this is actually a good thing. In fact, companies that properly harness the trend of easy-to-use applications can uplift the productivity of an increasingly digital workforce.
Today’s workers spend most of their day in front of a screen: the big one on their wall, the medium one on their desk, and the small one on their phone. People are also willing to spend more time in the applications they enjoy using. When apps quickly and effectively present people with content that suits their interests, they stick around to binge-watch TV shows, scroll through social media posts, and fill their shopping carts online.
At work, on the other hand, employees begrudgingly log into archaic enterprise applications, then log out as soon as they complete a task. They repeat this process dozens of times each day, often keeping several applications open at the same time because they can’t easily share data from one to another. They do this because they get paid to, not because they want to.
One reason this disconnect exists is because consumer tech firms have spent years researching UX design. They’ve learned how to retain users’ attention and psychologically incentivize certain types of behavior. From colors schemes that illicit a certain feeling, to the use of recommendation engines suggesting content you may like – movies, songs, products, and so on – it’s all intentional to encourage continued use.
Additionally, most consumer apps don’t come with a lengthy instruction manual. They’re intuitive to use, require minimal to no training, and present users with all the information they need in a single pane of glass view. They are rewarding to use, and generally easy to troubleshoot.
3 considerations for improving enterprise UX
Before enterprises jump headlong into redesigning all their business applications, it’s important to remember that UX goes beyond user interface (UI). There’s also the work environment, incentive structure, ease of collaboration among colleagues (regardless of location), and the ability to access the information relevant to their job using as few applications as possible.
Obviously, some elements of UX have little to do with software procurement – kitchen snacks and office chairs, for example. But many do. If your organization is looking to create a more modern UX for an increasingly digital workforce, here are three things to keep in mind.1.) Be an educated consumer
Before you decide to develop an application in-house, make sure you have a very valid reason for doing so. If you do, recognize that you need to engage with outside UI and UX experts to support the process. You may be able to redesign a bathroom, for example, but you should probably leave the plumbing to the experts. If you decide to build instead of buy, make sure UI and UX are key elements of your decision.2.) Reduce the number of interfaces
Context switching lowers productivity, resulting in increased mistakes, IT downtime, and a ripple effect of other unintended consequences. When looking at business applications, it’s tempting to look at best-of-breed, but I’d encourage you to look at best-of-suite solutions. It’s easier for a worker to use one interface with 10 functions than to use 10 separate applications (often integrated poorly) to accomplish the same work. Plus, history tells us that suites have a longer shelf life – after all, nearly every enterprise uses Microsoft Word these days, but hardly any use our old friend WordPerfect.3.) Go with a platform
Even after considering the first two points, many enterprises still opt for custom-built solutions, getting all the features and workflows they need. This may work in the short term, but custom solutions require custom workflows to be maintained, upgraded, and expanded. As an enterprise evolves – acquiring companies, outsourcing business units, and so on – the custom solution becomes unsustainable. It also becomes a competitive disadvantage, as it’s hard to retain and attract talent to manage legacy proprietary software systems when other enterprises increasingly use familiar systems.
A business platform, on the other hand, enables strong UX and customizability, all within your existing technology investments. Adopting a platform like ServiceNow enables users to centralize functional area apps and systems—for IT, HR, SecOps, GRC, etc.—in one place. This gives users a single interface to engage with, minimizes business siloes, and reduces the resources required for custom development, integration work, implementation, and maintenance.
Anyone who has worked in tech support has stories about working with legacy applications that should have been retired decades prior. Fortunately, it’s not hard for today’s enterprises to reevaluate their existing UX and adopt a more modern approach. And the easiest way to achieve this is through a business platform.