Can IT afford to ignore user experience issues any longer?
By Somak Roy, Senior Analyst, Enterprise Solutions, Ovum.
For far too long the enterprise software selection decision has been a primarily IT-led and feature-set-focused process, with feedback from actual users typically playing a much less significant role than that required. Ignoring user opinion, of which user experience (UX) is a big part, has not gone unpunished of course, and has resulted in familiar problems including expensive training and lack of adoption.
In decades past it was still possible for software selection decision-makers be in consideration of plausible solutions that offered poor UX, but increasingly this is not the case. Employees familiar with consumer web software that “just works” are demanding more, and software-as-a-service (SaaS) and freemium are allowing business units to bypass IT. The selection process must therefore incorporate UX.
Incorporating UX capabilities in the software selection process
It would be useful to distinguish usability and UX at the outset. Usability is about how easily a goal can be accomplished, while UX is about making software engaging (and even delightful). Usability is a subset of UX. Many enterprise software solutions score very poorly on even usability, and Ovum believes the time has come to demand UX excellence. A section of the vendor community is working on providing a better user experience, and the enterprise now has options.
Ovum recommends using a mix of expert opinion on the solution’s UX quality and the vendor’s level of focus on UX, and feedback aggregated from representative users testing the solution. The group of experts is the group driving the selection project, usually a team comprising IT, business users, and leaders. Ovum’s proposal adds two sets of scores on UX to the standard decision framework, and introduces the step of posing a set of UX questions to a group of representative users.
Measuring UX excellence: expectations should go beyond conventional measures of good usability
Usability should be high
A major component of the user experience score, and the first step in assessing UX excellence, must be the score on usability. The “usability” dimension needs to be weighted heavily because many enterprise software solutions are likely to violate even basic design principles.
- Representative users: standard software usability testing typically involves monitoring how easily a set of scripted goals can be achieved.
- Experts: the “overall usability” dimension is by definition user feedback-based.
Needs to align with contemporary notions of look-and-feel and navigation, established primarily by consumer software
- Representative users: user rating on the question “does it feel like consumer (web) software?”
- Experts: the score here is a function of the solution’s adherence to conventions that have been established through consumer software. Regarding navigation, a number of enterprise software solutions have adopted the activity feed as the entry point into the tool, and, according to Ovum’s research, has received positive user response. The ability to tag is also a user expectation. Finally, the look and feel of enterprise software is often much closer to a web experience from 2002 than 2012. It therefore needs to be much more contemporary.
The UX needs to be consistent across different modules
- Representative users: user rating on the questions: “is switching from one module to the next seamless?” and “does the UX feel consistent across different modules?”
- Experts: need to base their opinion and score on whether there has been a conscious effort to unify and harmonize user experiences across modules. Often large vendor solutions are a patchwork of in-house and acquired products, and UX consistency can only come from a project initiated with that specific goal. Also, an important element of high UX consistency is the level of integration.
The tool needs to take advantage of the user’s context information
- Representative users: user rating on the question “did the tool seem aware of what I needed at the moment?”
- Experts: need to base their score on whether widgets (such as a currency-conversion tool), drop-down lists, analytical tools, and the solution’s overall form factor have been designed with the user context (the user’s position in the workflow and the user’s device) in mind. Too often users have to go outside the tool to execute tasks necessary for the workflow. Experts need to ascertain from conversations with the vendor whether context awareness to provide data support has been an explicit design goal.
Analytics should be presented in context
- Representative users: user rating on the question “did you often see charts and graphs that could answer questions that were important to accomplish the task at hand?”
- Experts: need to assess whether embedded, in-context analytics was an explicit design goal and has been done well.
Routine tasks should have engagement elements
While enterprise software by definition cannot be designed with fun in mind, UX professionals at consumer software firms have clearly demonstrated that inherently not-so-fun tasks can be made to seem less arduous through clever UX elements. For example, populating a LinkedIn profile has been made less arduous through a progress bar, and SAP has demonstrated a user interface where leads are assigned to sales representatives by dragging a golf ball to a hole.
- Representative users: need to be interviewed about the efficacy of specific engagement elements. Abandonment rates and task completion times can also be assessed to understand the quality of these elements.
- Experts: scores here represent the experts’ opinion on whether engagement elements have been used at appropriate points in the workflow. The vendor’s knowledge of the importance of engagement, and whether ‘”gamification” is on their horizon, should also influence the score. Some of the larger enterprise applications vendors, such as SAP, are experimenting with gamification to improve UX, and ideas and skills should soon spread to other vendors.
Recommendations for enterprises
According to the popular saying, “you always pay for quality whether you invest in it or not”, and the same goes for UX. User training, certifications, informal employee-to-employee training are all either expensive or productivity-draining, and frequently both. Ovum recommends going beyond merely incorporating user experience scores in the selection process, and weighing the UX score heavily.
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