The words “user-friendly” have appeared on the requirements list for selecting new technology for many years. Despite this key selection criterion, the world is somehow full of ugly and clunky software. What does “user-friendly” really mean? How does one measure and compare “user friendliness”? Is it really that important?
IBM Green Screens Belong to the Past
Technology has permeated our daily lives. I am not speaking about the professional experience we have between 9 and 5. As consumers shopping for the family, planning a holiday, or streaming a movie, we have an abundance of choice between different online retailers. In our time-poor daily lives the buying experience is equally as important in the purchasing decision as the price or the delivery date. The online buying experience is the modern day equivalent of traditional in-store customer service. If we experience poor customer service we will redirect our purchase elsewhere;the same is true for a poor online experience. Therefore, utmost attention is paid to ensure an optimal user-experience for the applications we use as a consumer. Naturally it follows that we come to expect this level of experience with all our technology interactions, both personal and professional. However, for many years enterprise software has lagged behind the consumer world in its focus on the user experience. Software vendors have hidden-behind excuses such as “enterprise software is different” and “remember the IBM green screens”.
‘You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.’
Demographics are changing in the workplace. Generation Z, (people born between 1990 and early 2000’s) are now moving into management and roles that influence technology selection. Generation Z has been exposed to an unprecedented amount of technology during their upbringing. According to Forbes (2015), Generation Z makes up 25% of the U.S. population, making them a larger group than the Baby Boomers or Millennials. This creates a powerful expectation in the workplace that the enterprise technology user experience is as pleasant and as meaningful as the mobile app we use daily to call an Uber. Generation Z sees no reason why the enterprise software experience should be different from consumer software experience. The experience must be intuitive, intelligent, responsive, social, mobile, and “always on;” just like Uber. If not, then choose another technology.
The User Friendly Supply Chain Planning Software
Supply chain planning technology by nature is about determining future demand and supply plans equipped with large amounts of historic and real-time data. With so much data revealing trends and exceptions, the user experience must be concise and clean. The planner requires a user experience that supports and empowers decision making. How much will I sell? How much effective capacity will I have? How long will it take to deliver? What will be the results of a new product launch? The technology must provide a planning experience that anticipates the questions and intuitively presents the answers alongside the decision supporting analytics. The planning experience needs to be one step ahead of the user at every step like an invisible mind-reader.
This brings us to a proverbial D-Day for supply chain planning technology. In some ways everything we know about the planning experiences needs to be unlearnt and developed again. Menu driven form based software that comes with a 100 page user guide and multi-day how-to-use classroom training has no place in this age. In the words of Steve Jobs, “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.”
Like all fresh initiatives, a meaningful user experience requires research. This means ethnographic research with customers, prototyping and usability validation, awareness of best-in-class peers, and an appreciation of innovative user experience developments in hardware and software such as voice recognition, fingerprint authentication, and new touch screen gestures. The experience needs to be measured to improve; quantitative measures such as task performance metrics are readily available. However, the real success is measured in qualitative data on user behaviour sourced from surveys or sentiment mined through feedback or social media monitoring. A unique characteristic of user experience is that if you get it wrong, there is no shortage of measurable feedback; the inverse is not true.
Transforming the user experience focus from being practical to being meaningful will deliver significant business benefits; it will accelerate the adoption of a new technology, improve the quality of decision making, reduce employee frustration and improve retention, improve customer service, and hopefully it will be fun.