We (still) have a Problem with Enterprise UX
The enterprise software has come a long way since Jason Fried wrote Why Enterprise Software Suck in 2007. Sadly enough, most continue to be inelegant and confusing to use. Just glance through the reviews on G2, Capterra etc. to get a sense. In user reviews, you find a repeated demand for training material and documentation - does this mean non-intuitive interfaces? Jared Spool agrees with us:
Opposite of usability is training
Why has the situation not improved since 2007? First, change, if any, has been slow. Second, the users now have a benchmark for good software - the consumer apps and in comparison enterprise app suck. Rasmus Skjoldan puts it nicely for us:
…it dawned on everyone that it just wasn’t humane to have great UX in your private life and nauseating mazes of software to >fight against at work…
It’s 2020, and companies operate in a hyper-competitive market. Poorly designed tools are going to lower the productivity, lead to sub-optimal decisions and ultimately result in loss of market share.
So why does enterprise software continue to remain inelegant? The reason, unfortunately, is that same Fried posits - buyers are not the users! The people who buy enterprise software are not the ones who use it daily. That’s a big disconnect.
Feature Lists and Usability
The enterprise sales cycle is more extended, a few weeks if not months - this is true even for modern SaaS products. As the conversations progress, usability fades away, and the focus shifts to the feature list, services and release times. The result is a product built for the buyer and not the user.
It is easy to fix the blame on the buyer, but one has to empathize with them. Understand the drivers of this behaviour. Enterprises work with multiple software (there is never one that solves all), there are numerous data dependencies and complex hand-offs. In this context, the buyer is trying to get something that plays well with the existing systems, captures future needs and fits the budget. More features mean good software! This perception needs to be corrected.
Research done by Pendo suggests that only 12% of features generate 80% of average daily usage. They further estimate that $29.5 billion spent on features rarely used! These are eye-popping numbers. Even if we discount the dollar estimate by 80%, the number is still in billions.
Minimum Acceptable Features
Enterprise software buyers need to optimise for today (what's needed right now), scale and upgrade in the future as the need arises. Start with Minimum Acceptable Feature (MAF) set that provides core functionality and improves usability. Enhance the software as the need arises and design for integrations using APIs. For all the cloud SaaS products, APIs are the future. The MAF approach allows us to balance requirement and usability.
Why so much emphasis on usability? Productivity == Better Decisions == Money
For an enterprise, business means people and people have to make hundreds if not thousands of decisions every day. People should not spend their valuable time, fighting software. A well-built software will increase the productivity of the user, free-up time to work on more customer-centric initiatives and make optimal decisions. Rebeca Costa documents some fascinating stories of enterprise software implementation that went sideways.
Note: The flip-side of MAF, in a way, the Minimum Loveable Product that all product leaders strive to achieve in the early stages.
Jason Fried has a solution for the “buyer is not the user “problem - sell to buyers who are users; the folks he calls the Fortune 5,00,000. Exceptional clarity of thought and a vast market. We are targeting the Fortune 5000 CPG supply chain market; no luxury of the buyer is the user.
We are building software for demand planners in FMCG. We keep the planner at the center of every design decision, right from backend automation to user interface. We extensively debate on impact of new feature, enhancement on business and user. A big business decision is a combination of many small decisions, our aim is to provide planners with enough insights to make great decisions everyday. We use the following principles internally to guide our user-first design
- Keep access to data transparent and available
- Give sufficient contextual information
- Keep the user cognitive load to an absolute minimum
- Eliminate any user input/action which can be automated
Of course there is a long way to go and tons to learn from our users. We will share more as we learn more. I would be keen to know more about the current state of affairs in the demand planning UX and if there is anything we can do to make things better.