I love those “Behind the Scenes” docutainment shows about places like Disney. When we visit as customers, we see a fantasy-land perfectly groomed, immaculately spotless, and functioning at a high level. But the “behind the scenes” version is usually much, much different. It’s not nearly as colorful, it feels dirty, and it generally doesn’t inspire you to spend more money on whatever product or experience is for sale.
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum are some of today’s hottest tech companies, like Google and Goldman Sachs (yep, I said Goldman Sachs is a hot tech company, check it out), that go out of their way to make the inside every bit as interesting as the outside. Everything from in-office cafés to video game rooms, fitness classes, and anything else you can think of to keep employees busy, but happy.
B2E apps are often like this, aren’t they? We build these slick mobile apps for customers, but then get stuck with internal apps that fail on almost every level.
Why is that? Why is it that so often when it comes to designing enterprise apps for employee use, the end product is a needlessly complex, half-baked version of an app that’s every bit as necessary for the business as what is sold to the public?
If we want employees to enjoy their work, alongside all-night scavenger hunts for charity (looking at you again, Goldman Sachs), why don’t we strive to make the tools employees use every day the source of the most well-thought-out and delightful experiences they have? Employees provide the perfect blend of “idea sandbox” and “safe feedback zone” that allow us to try out new ideas, tweak designs, and improve overall processes that, in turn, yield positive returns on investment across all of business, partner, and customer applications.
If this piques your interest, maybe you’re ready to rethink the enterprise app. Here are our thoughts.
The Business of Better B2E Application Design
There is a lot of chatter about digital transformation. And while most of the planning and action around digital transformation is geared toward revenue-generating activities, there are a lot of reapable benefits from focusing on cost-saving activities. Gartner suggests addressing your B2E apps as “products” rather than “projects” when considering how to design and build them. That means creating an app framework encompassing the “4 P’s” of Product, Price, Placement, and Promotion, just as you would a consumer app whose success could make or break your mobile-first business strategy.
Well-designed enterprise apps save time and money in the long-term, and after all, a penny saved is a penny earned. Digital transformation done right can save you a LOT of pennies; anywhere from two to 100 dollars worth for every dollar spent on UX design.
Simple enhancements like these based on my experiences working with OutSystems customers can have significant results:
Weather Widget Prevents Construction Delays
Adding a weather forecast feature to a national construction company’s project management tool helped them predict weather-related delays when assigning resources.
Digital Processes Break Down Silos
Moving a real estate company from paper to digital with the help of low-code’s digital modernization benefits means their formerly linear sales and leasing process suddenly allows all parties to work in parallel to close the deal. (If you’re still using a fax machine as part of your process we really need to talk.)
On-Demand Assistance Simplifies Onboarding
The healthcare industry is notorious for endless jargon and complex plans… So complex that even long-time employees struggle to understand the details. In one case, onboarding new employees took 6 months or more before they felt autonomous. Providing them with a low-code platform that offered contextual help, used “human” language, and visualized complex details in a simple way helped bring that time down. This not only helped new employees get up-to-speed much faster but also helped all employees embrace a more customer-friendly approach when dealing with members.
Considerations like these in the design phase are so simple, yet so helpful. From such basic building blocks, we can scale out our digital transformation efforts, design innovative and useful apps that anyone can pick up and start using immediately, and truly grow.
4 Design Truisms for Great UX in Enterprise Applications
Designing for enterprise has its own set of unique challenges. While there is some overlap with consumer experiences, there are also some significant differences. But the experience gap between digital tools for employees and consumers is narrowing. Having worked all over the world with dozens of customers on their design projects, here are four truisms I’ve realized when it comes to designing UX for the enterprise.
Efficiency Begats Productivity Begats Cost Savings
Check the Wayback Machine and you’ll see business tools and processes of the past were primarily designed to meet the needs of the business, not the user. Tools were built with the desired end-result in mind, and it was up to the user to figure out how to correctly input the information to get said result. Now, that balance is shifting to more democratically address the needs of both the business and the user.
Most internal apps are purpose-built; they satisfy a very specific need. While that may sound better than say, building a new ERP system, these purpose-built apps still have to take into consideration the goals of the app, the data it needs to pull in or collect from users, what to do with that data, securing that data, error handling and reporting, device compatibility, and a list of other requirements.
With all that in place, you can consider design. And don’t forget to, or else your app may fall into Forrester’s dreaded 70% failure rate due to lack of user adoption statistic. After all, good UX means a user will be faster at learning and using an app, and therefore more efficient. And there is a natural connection between efficiency and productivity.
Efficiency is doing something in the fewest number of iterations, and productivity is doing more with the same resources. Therefore, naturally, if a person can work more efficiently, without drawing on an additional pool of resources (talent, finances, time), then they are going to make the number-crunchers happy. Well-designed apps should satisfy both efficiency and productivity goals.
Along the way to greater efficiencies, you should notice a few additional perks stemming from your efforts to streamline, such as:
- Apps with well-thought-out design have longer shelf life, which means you aren’t completely rebuilding the app the next time a requirement changes.
- Employees complete their tasks faster, make fewer errors, and effortlessly prioritize their workload in well-designed apps.
- Dev teams spend 50 percent less time re-working an app where UX was part of the initial planning.
All that said, nowhere in either the definition of efficiency or productivity in app development is the concept of UX design. Just because you cranked out more code this month than last month, doesn’t mean it’s going to take off with your user base. Let see what else we should keep in mind.
The 80/20 Rule Applies to App Development Too
Jim Bird has a great article on DZone about the 80/20 rule in software development. I suggest you read it (later). At the risk of stealing his thunder, the gist is that when you’re developing software, always keep the 80/20 rule in mind. Specifically for our purposes here, recognize that if you look at the features that the majority of your users interact with, it’s a very small set. If you don’t need to clutter up your interface with buttons or long menu trees, don’t.
As you’re putting together your requirements document that includes a laundry list of “must-haves,” if you can get away with it, spend a bit more time understanding:
- What is the primary purpose of this application?
- What MUST it do for users to adopt it?
Once you have identified that, you’re on your way to building something really simple but useful, and now you just have to make it look good and easy to navigate. Simple, huh?
Customization Saves the Day
Each user of a new app is a new user. Even if someone has been with the company for a decade, while they may know what they’re trying to accomplish with the app, each piece of software has its own experience and journey to accomplish its tasks. As a designer, it’s important to create experiences that work for multiple types of users. Luckily, modern tools help to reduce ramp-up and knowledge transfer for both experienced and new employees alike.
OutSystems offers some beautiful and thoughtfully designed templates to save yourself some time. Not having to research, spec out, test, and iterate a new design—because someone has already done that for you—frees you up to focus on the other 18 percent of functionality that’s unique to that app and find better ways to solve your business problems.
Employees need tools and processes customized for them. Better still are customizable experiences where users control their digital workspace and make it their own. Consider tools you probably use now, like Asana. Asana allows you to create custom views, tweak the layout, and generally make it your own. As much as you can allow the user to make the app work for them, the more they will work with it.
Simple Doesn’t Have to Mean Less
Google is the most popular internet search portal on the planet. And sure, sometimes they put clever animations or pictures on their homepage, but there is nothing fancy about the interface of their product. There’s nothing to get in the way of you and what you’re searching for.
In 2019, popular enterprise tools look and feel more like consumer apps. That’s because more than half of the U.S. workforce is of the millennial generation. They grew up with apps and technology and have used them their whole lives. The success of Slack, G Suite, and Expensify shows that employees want the same ease-of-use at work as they experience from their B2C apps. We should expect that employees will ask questions like, “Why doesn’t my corporate travel tool make booking flights and hotels as easy as Kayak?” Good question.
We helped a communications company create a more complete view of their workstreams. Employees were working reactively, relying on (mostly angry) customers to notify them of issues. With the right tools, they can now be more proactive and notify customers of potential issues in advance. Less finger-pointing; less time spent trying to work out which projects are most urgent; less chasing down colleagues for information.
Moments of delight and ease of use are key to successful employee experiences, just as they are to consumer experiences. Small wins generate big impact. They can seem insignificant, but they enhance users’ experiences exponentially. Learn the workarounds and hacks that users are currently using and incorporate them into your own digital solutions. Make manual tasks invisible. Empower users by giving them the right information at the right time… no more and no less.
The Last Word on the Impact of Good UX in Enterprise Apps
Just as consumer companies become more customer-focused, enterprises are realizing the benefits of using the same processes, ideas, and technologies that work externally, for internal use.
To point, in this year’s Forrester report on the impact of good customer experience (CX) on a company’s stock value, they found that “... the top 20 percent of brands… had higher stock price growth and higher total returns than a similar portfolio of companies drawn from the bottom 20 percent.”
In today’s mobile and web-first business environment, a user’s experience with a brand’s apps ranks highly in their overall CX. Similarly, well-designed enterprise employee apps mean more engaged employees, less unproductive time using the app or trying to understand how it works, and the lessons learned developing, testing, and improving B2E apps can lead to improvements in other areas of the company’s applications and systems design.
These transformational experiences create efficient workflows, reduce complexity, and increase employee satisfaction. You can raise the bar by meeting employee demand and then exceed it by creating innovative solutions they haven’t imagined or expected. Most importantly, embrace the process of continuous, rapid evolution. When your product goes live on launch day, your work is not over, it has just begun.
For more tips on designing great user experiences, check out these other resources on our site: