THE VALUE OF DESIGN IN ENTERPRISE SOLUTIONS
by Arvind Sarin
When enterprises set out to build a new solution of any kind, the first goal is to achieve a desired result. Whether it’s a new CRM platform, a more detailed sales reporting tool, or a better information management system, the first question most CEOs ask themselves before greenlighting the project is whether or not it will help the enterprise serve its customers better, and ultimately, result in an improved bottom line.
It’s all about results.
The first step to achieving results is to identify the business problem. Then, the enterprise must determine the best way to attack that business problem. There are a number of steps that happen next, but the process usually ends the same way – the project team recommends a solution to the executive team, which is usually filled with a list of necessary features.
In these scenarios, the project team spends a huge amount of time defining the feature set that will best accomplish the business goal in question. But, one of the biggest mistakes enterprises make, especially with solutions that aren’t consumer facing, is skimping on the design phase.
For every feature the project team spends time thinking about, the same amount of time should be devoted to the design and user interface of that feature. Simply put, no matter how great the features are, no one will want to use that solution or product if the design is poor, the navigation is confusing or the user interface is unintuitive.
Regardless of the solution, if the intended users — salespeople, HR, field service representatives, customers — struggle to use that solution, money is being lost. Whether that loss is from wasted productivity, costly mistakes, or angered clients, design plays a significant role.
This is bad news for the enterprise space, especially when it comes to digital solutions. Gartner, the respected research firm, ranks enterprise-specific apps as habitually subpar on the quality of their user experiences. Internally built corporate apps score worse on the scale than any other type of solution.
If history has taught us anything, it’s that if people don’t like a system or service, they won’t use it. Of course, baseline functionality and stability are paramount to achieving that end, but the design and user interface that sits on top of those features can be just as big an obstacle (or accelerant) to adoption from the intended audience. And, if the intended audience isn’t using the solution, then it’s essentially worthless.
For example, Apple has become the world’s largest corporation thanks in large part to a maniacal devotion to design, both in hardware and software. Their sleek, aesthetically pleasing computers, tablets and phones have come to dominate their respective markets. And while many legacy PC users balked at the increased price for similar performance statistics, Apple has since grown into a seemingly unstoppable technological juggernaut, due in large part to its better looking hardware and simpler operating system.
Likewise, many people previously using BlackBerry handsets felt Apple would never make inroads into enterprise mobile for lack of a tactile keyboard, or exchange integration. However, the design, usefulness and simplicity of the iPhone eventually destroyed that preconceived notion.
In all of these cases, Apple delivered the goods from a functionality standpoint, but it captured many of its users through superior design, usability and overall user experience.
Granted, most enterprise solutions have different audiences than the one Apple caters to, but the lessons of Apple’s rise to dominance hold true: Design and user experience matter – deeply. Developing the most effective (and cost efficient) solutions requires a similar dedication to design.
Apple’s dedication to design excellence is legendary. Plus, all of its products are aimed at consumers who can easily leave the Apple family in favor of numerous competitive products. For enterprise solutions, that’s generally not the case. Salespeople or field reps can’t use some other product or solution if the company doesn’t support it. However, for employees to operate at maximal effectiveness, there is a base level of design and user experience quality necessary. That doesn’t mean companies need to spend years in design R&D the way Apple does – many tech thought leaders have conceded to a “good enough” principle of enterprise design. But, that “good enough” level is quite a bit higher than most CEOs probably realize. Furthermore, it’s every bit as important as the features and functionalities themselves.
When developing a solution of any kind, forward-thinking enterprises ought to devote the same amount of time to design as they do to defining the feature set. Design can destroy adoption or kick start it. It can increase productivity, employee happiness and bottom-line results — or hinder all three. By making a commitment to getting the user experience right, enterprises can rise above the rest and improve their bottom lines in the process.
Arvind Sarin is the co-founder and CEO of Dallas-based Copper Mobile, a leading enterprise-centric mobile development firm that helps companies solve their business challenges with cutting-edge mobile solutions. He consults regularly with executive leadership from worldwide customers to help create their mobile roadmap and strategy. www.coppermobile.com