BY MARIONA BASSOLS AND MARC BÀGUENA
Getting a job done in the easiest possible way means having a good app design. Until recently, this was mainly linked to consumer apps. With enterprise apps and software, the challenge is the same. An app for tracking working hours, releasing invoices or monitoring costs needs to be just as user-friendly, otherwise the users in the company will not use it or at least see it as necessary evil.
Enterprise User Experience (UX) is a term used for all internal tools a company hands out to its employees, not to end consumers. This may involve HR portals for tracking working hours, applying for travel requests as well as inventory tracking apps, intranet pages, internal social media, etc. All of these apps were designed to make “employees’ lives” easier and to make company processes run smoothly, fast and efficiently. The challenge that often happens in contrary here is that the developed systems and apps do not meet the user requirements on speed, intuitiveness and so the apps may end up being not used or perceived as not user-friendly or attractive at all. Your employees will only use them because they have to. Enterprise employees are also consumers; in their private life they come in touch with various mobile or desktop applications and they are well aware of what they need and understand the current standards of the apps’ usability. So why should a company’s working hours tracking tool not be as elegant as Facebook or Twitter? When a commercial app is poorly designed, it can be deleted. When an enterprise app is not designed well, the employees have to live with it, but the costs for this are high for the entire company.
“Enterprise applications do not need to be invented from scratch. Companies can draw from a pool of solutions that are already available on the market and adapt them to special user needs.”
Even such small inefficiencies in organisations can lead to raising costs in terms of extra time spent for administrative tasks and staff being frustrated. As tricky as the topic may appear, for internal applications the wheel does not have to be invented from scratch. Companies can draw from the pool of solutions that are already available on the market and adapt it to the special user needs. Many consultancy partners own their own processes to make business-centric UX feasible.
As illustrated in (FIG. 1), the process can be based on three stages: information architecture, interaction design and user interface design. The idea and goal is to be iterative in all these stages and follow user standard patterns. When conducting interviews with stakeholders on their expectations, it is crucial to keep in mind, that the team or the management who commissioned the UX project often is not the one who will be using it. Therefore, the real end user as well as the business need to be involved from the very beginning on. The benefit of having an experienced external partner accompanying in the project lies in him having a UX team combined with technical skills as well as agile qualities. The partner can provide ideas and concepts that even the customer is surprised by. When developing an application, the partner is operating based on the needs that the users have at that very moment. But these requirements nowadays change very fast. What the user considered as crucial two months ago can be outdated after just a few months. Therefore, companies need to act agilely and continuously adapt the applications to the changing needs and inject new ideas and prioritise them. Features that were not prioritised are finally discarded. Customer feedback flows in during the entire process and provides important indicators in early stages, enabling adaptations to be made within the application.
Designing internal tools for an organisation requires knowing the technical systems of the customer. The systems of the partner have to merge with the systems of the customer. Sticking to the customer’s plan is important even though the partner may be working in a different way, e.g., in terms of agile culture. To minimize risks, many companies use a Proof of Concept (POC), a detailed design concept that demonstrates the ideas and their viability and feasibility. The process usually includes a requirements analysis, a technical feasibility phase and initial design drafts for getting an approval to work on the full application. What often happens, though, is that the POC focuses on functionalities rather than on the viability of the ideas themselves.
“Internal users of an enterprise application understand the standards of usability in a practical way. If the app does not cater to them, the users end up avoiding it or just using it because they have to.”
Designing an internal UX project optimally further requires understanding the companys’s culture, its mindset and its values to make the application unique. There are some short-term company goals that have to be kept in mind, e.g., fixed timelines, target agreements, defined budgets and metrics about the results that quantify the success of the project. A partner who is agile and eclectic based on rich project experience working with big customers from many various areas will be flexible and bring in valuable insights and impulses.
“Involving a usability expert as early as possible saves time and money as any necessary optimisation is in this way identified even before the development phase.”
As it is the user who decides about the success of your application, testing performed by real users is on the rise. An experienced partner can advise his customer on this possibility and set-up a suitable frame. More consultants are incorporating this stage into their established UX processes. The principle of the test is to set up a group of real end users and sit them down in a room monitored by cameras recording their behaviour as users. The information received identifies major usability issues and improvement possibilities for the application. There are countless systematic and methodological approaches that can determine the quality of a real user test. As mentioned earlier, it vastly depends on the knowledge and expertise that the external partner has from particular sectors and similar applications.
EXAMPLE 1: USER EXPERIENCE FOR MANAGED MONITORING OF RESOURCE USE
A global technology company is looking for an external partner to develop an application to be part of their product delivery to the end users for tracking costs, allocating of material resources and for optimizing the production. Its competitors are already delivering similar products with a suitable application; therefore, the company faces the challenge to launch an application with the same or even additional improved features to the market. Based on a long-term strategic partnership, ERNI is entrusted with the task to develop an even better, more user-friendly application with more features than that of the competitors within a challenging timeframe of 6 to 8 months. A briefing is being worked out for the project that comprises of two parts: the configuration of existing systems and the creation of an appealing layout. During the initial stage, the customer presented some basic mockups about what the application should offer. ERNI starts with the analysis, of the needs and requirements of the end user and the current trends on the market. Based on the results of the analysis, an interface is developed and presented to the key users from the marketing department. Feedback from the stakeholders is flowing in throughout the entire development process. Another challenging part of the creation of the app is the setting up of failure messages in case of any disturbances during the production process. These messages tell the user at what stage the error occurred and based on what reasons. Understanding between the machine software and the application software needs to be established as well. As a response to the challenge of getting relevant data and turning them into nice and understandable infographics, the partner adds several data analysis configurations to the app. The final acceptance of the application is given by the R&D headquarters of the company. The pilot project is received with very good feedback for the high-quality result delivered within a very short period of time. The customer values especially the expertise and the intercultural background of the partner that enabled the successful realisation. Presently, a second phase of the project is already being initiated.
EXAMPLE 2: SECURITY SOFTWARE GETTING MORE APPEALING USER INTERFACE
A security company wants to adapt the interface of its software managing access permissions and visitor management in order to give it a consistent look and feel and more user-friendliness for end users from various industry areas. The solution needs to be realised in a short period of time; therefore, the company approaches ERNI as a partner that it already has a well-established reliable relationship with. ERNI assigns two teams distributed in two countries to work on the project. The customer is clear about the needed functionalities of the system but does not have any particular ideas about the appearance and the user experience. The implementation is scheduled to take two years. In an agile way, the monitoring system must be made more user-friendly. Therefore, the interface of each feature needs to be designed and the looks of the main page unified, as the security company delivers to international end users active in various business areas. In the long run, the software is expected to be enriched by more additional features in a consistent way for all end users in the same well-applied usability patterns following the mental model in all systems, even within different applications.