UX Magazine

Defining and Informing the Complex Field of User Experience (UX)
Article No. 1293 August 20, 2014

The Next UX Revolution: Transforming Stodgy Enterprise Applications Into Engaging Experiences

Three clicks instead of ten. Two steps instead of five. White space. Intuitive icons. Drag and drop. As consumer UX underwent a renaissance over the last decade, enterprise software stagnated with a design sensibility from the dial-up era.

Usability—much less beauty—was never a priority for business software. All that mattered was that large and complex applications worked. What’s the point of tweaking and beautifying when basic functionality is challenging enough and all of your competitors are equally sub par?

The point is users. Not yesterday’s users who eventually adapted to whatever complex software product you put in front of them. Those users are retiring. I’m talking about millennial workers who know better than to settle for unwieldy, confusing applications that only make their jobs harder.

Back in 2012, with the changing expectations of a new workforce, Charles Phillips, my CEO at Infor, decided that it was time to set a new standard for enterprise UX. Without a roadmap to follow or stats to back him up, Charles made usability—and the beauty of the experience—a priority for Infor, based on his inherent belief that good UX is valuable for our business and to the people who buy and use our products.

How did Infor transform its expansive product line of more than 50 applications? How can you replicate our UX strategy within your own organization? And how did it all pan out? (Spoiler alert: Our “go big or go home” approach is paying off for our customers, our users, and us.)

Step 1: Build the Right Internal Team

I believe that innovation is borne out of relentless curiosity. When forming Hook & Loop, Infor’s creative lab, I sought talent outside the enterprise software space and was delighted to find creatives with a wide range of backgrounds, eager to bring fresh perspectives to enterprise software. This unconventional yet highly capable team includes former advertising folks like myself, artists, a CGI animator from The Avengers, a comic book illustrator, and a designer from Kenneth Cole. We also have designers with strengths in information architecture and code, as well as two developers with backgrounds in graphic design and another who started his career as a writer. Their career experiences combined with other staffers’ more traditional software backgrounds offers a balance of limitless curiosity and expertise.

Infor Business Intelligence

Along with a rich diversity of competencies, there is an amazing lack of ego on our team. Everyone contributes and the best idea wins, whether it comes from a senior product developer or a recent college graduate, an industry veteran or a newbie. This open-mindedness produces a highly prolific and effective team, one that is truly greater than the sum of its parts.

Whether your product line demands one solid designer or a multi-faceted 60-person squad, it is crucial to build your team internally. Outsourcing UX may feel like the cleanest, simplest solution, but it probably won’t get you farther than a facelift. While Hook & Loop was always comprised of a full-time, in-house staff, we operated early on more as a consulting group, fixing small pieces of Infor applications. We quickly figured out that this approach would not scale nor help Infor with any long-term goals, which leads me to my next point.

Step 2: Foster Collaboration

Traditionally, an enterprise application was conceived in a vacuum: a product manager created a long list of features, and the end result was a product rich in functionality, but complicated to use. To deliver meaningful user experiences—and, ultimately, to build support both within your organization and among your customers—you need to work closely with three distinct groups: the executive team, your organization’s existing teams, and your users.

Collaborating with Infor leadership comes naturally to us, thanks to the executive team’s commitment to UX from the very beginning. With both teams based in Infor’s New York City headquarters, communication is constant, objectives are always clear, and quick deliverables and last-minute changes are easy. Impromptu collaboration often takes place in the office kitchen, on the way to lunch, or simply as someone walks by a team member’s desk. Structured meetings can be called quickly when necessary. Unlike traditional enterprise software companies, we are able to ship products and upgrades in just a few months. This would be impossible without leadership’s enduring support and transparency.

Infor Mingle mobile

We also work with many teams within Infor, from industry-specific teams that serve sectors such as manufacturing, hospitality, and fashion, to strategy teams, marketing, and existing product teams. Essentially, we work with everyone. As a result, all of Infor has been exposed to Hook & Loop and, in turn, we’ve been exposed to all of Infor. This helps us deliver not only on our own goals, but also the strategies, wants and needs of the entire organization.

Next generation enterprise software will learn patterns, anticipate problems and provide solutions

Collaboration within your organization will get you far, but you also need to listen to and observe your users. We create meaningful experiences for field service technicians, data entry personnel, and hotel front desk clerks because we have watched them work and asked them about their pain points and wish lists. We learn what their days are like so we can understand what they need. Ultimately, we have been able to take a user-first approach to UX and structure experiences around the workflow of the user, rather than forcing the user to conform his workflow to the structure of the product.

Step 3: Go Beyond Good Looks

When Hook & Loop was formed, we set out to push Infor’s products past functionality and into more pleasurable experiences. This was a monumental task in itself for a company that grew through acquisitions. Disparate platforms, frameworks, navigation patterns, and interaction patterns made it difficult to unify Infor’s UX, but we did it in under a year by developing a set of guidelines and distributing them to help every product team adapt to the new UX directive.

Let me repeat that: we did it in under a year.

Now, we’re pushing ourselves even farther to not only simplify the experience of using enterprise software, but also to simplify the experience of work itself. One of our favorite examples at Hook & Loop is in manufacturing. Currently, when a machine malfunctions, everything in the production process comes to a halt, which results in costly downtime—and panic—until the issue is resolved. When we spoke to manufacturers, they said they wanted enhanced ways to fix floor problems faster, but this just left us wondering—what if we could prevent problems from happening? Inspired by predictive consumer technologies, we’re simplifying the way manufacturers work with an app that will anticipate factory floor issues and provide immediate solutions before they arise.

Infor desktop

The next generation of enterprise software won’t just track, report, and distribute information. It will learn patterns, anticipate problems and provide solutions. It will do more heavy lifting, liberating organizations and their workers to imagine, invent and solve problems bigger than patching a broken machine.

The UX Evolution Has Only Just Begun

Businesses are starting to realize the potential of good UX. With a substantial percentage of the workforce retiring in the next three to five years, organizations need software for a new wave of workers—business software that works like the apps they use at home. Our customers who have already adopted Infor’s new UX are seeing lower turnover rates, less training time, and more satisfaction among their workers. They tell us they’re hungry for more. And we’re getting ready to deliver.

 

Image of clenched fist courtesy Shutterstock

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)

User Profile

As Chief Creative Officer of Infor, Marc Scibelli leads Infor's creative lab, Hook & Loop. Scibelli has helped pioneer the consumerization of business software by partnering creatives with business software experts. Under Scibelli's leadership, the Hook & Loop team has grown from 15 members in the beginning of 2013 to approximately 80 today.

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Comments

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A couple of obviously good ideas, a bit of self-promotion, nothing really useful for a UX professional. I'm disappointed to see ux professionals writing articles that bring nothing to the table.

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You'd be surprised.... a bit of sound and fury will get these UX guys into the enterprise and that's all it takes really.  I mean not that it will result in any positive change, but they need to get paid like anyone else.

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Wow, excellent constructive criticism of recent posts, thank you. It's spot on and hard to argue, truly.

An article around discovery vs delivery is a really smart idea, and I can't stress more the need for top of the pyramid buy-in particularly when you're charged with being a disruptive force in an atrophied industry.

 

Thanks for challenging in such a helpful way, there really is a lot more under the covers to talk about to a well-infomed audience - and thanks for saying so. I’m on it.

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Whilst there is a lot of "pride" here in this persons company, i can see he's drawing on previous experience / success here to push that story forward. The feedback I'd relay here is that you've probably overplayed the brand positioning here and spoke less about the specifics and more broadstroked your way through the points of view (i almost expected to see the medical breakdown / side effects of taking Hook & Loop like FDA commercial requires hehe).That being said, I liked the article as it did resonate with my experiences in the enterprise. I work for a company that produces hardware for manufacturing etc (Schneider Electric) and I also worked for Microsoft on creating the next gen UX Platform for Enterprise (Prod Manager) .. so for me there was a few points where I just nodded and smiled with "yup i can see where you COULD have gone with that point".There are some hidden pockets of wisdom here if you look past the articles Hook & Loop cheerleading but i'd like to see more depth in future articles like this, specifically how you balance Discovery vs Delivery in Enterprise companys.It's one thing to sit in a cubicle and flag wave the principles behind UX it's another to know when to engage or disengage from a team within the company itself as if a team brings you in 5 sprints before the deadline, they've confused UX with UI and so on...My 2c.

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Appreciate the work at Infor to evangelise UX and use it at the core of the solutions being build. With all due respect to few comments on article not doing justice, let me share from my own experience of leading enterprise applications for last 5 years that steps followed by Infor team are mostly known to all but sadly ignored by most corporations. The fact that Executive team backed the approach and adopted UX as a Culture, if I may say so, says it all. 

Corporations know the other tricks of redesigning for better user experience, the tough part is making it a culture. Great work Marc. 

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Thanks for the great article Marc. It's good to hear about how Infor went about this.

I've spent 15 years in the enterprise software space, and I think the level of commitment and effort described is a minimum. The scale of enterprise solutions, the inherent complexity of solving solutions for so many users, and the legacy impact of the massive investment in existing code make this an incredible challenge. It's amazing that these systems get built in the first place.

IMHO, Enterprise companies lag 3-5 years behind consumer design not because they are idiots but because of the inherent complexity and massive expense of UX at scale. There is also the talent and capability challenge, and the fact that norms keep evolving. For instance, the page based designs of 10 years ago are being rapidly replaced by data-driven HTML5 application paradigms, and mobile is disrupting everything at the same time.

Kudos to Infor for making such rapid progress and thanks for sharing.

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I understand the impulse to show his own efforts at Infor in a good light, but the statement that "enterprise software stagnated with a design sensibility from the dial-up era" is unnecessary hyperbole and makes me wonder how much the author followed the evolution of enterprise software design over the years. SAP, Oracle, and Salesforce - to name just three companies I'm quite familiar with - all have put considerable effort and expense into the usability of their enterprise applications for at least 7-10 years now. While it's true that they typically lag a year or two behind the cutting edge of consumer applications, that is understandable due to the slower uptake and release cycle as well as the conservative nature of their customers.

All the things mentioned in the article have long been done by internal UX teams at large enterprise software companies and there's absolutely nothing new about this approach. It is still sound advice for smaller companies that tend to outsource their design and testing, but the notion that businesses are just now starting to understand the value of good UX is laughable at best. 

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I could not agree more with this. Enterprise UX as some now call it is finally getting the attention it deserves, as our consumer experiences shape our expectations of our employee experiences. Forrester, Gartner and many startups are focusing on this huge gap in the customer experience chain. It is vitally important in upcoming years that companies pay attention to how well they empower, measure, and support employees in delivering the brand promise. It's an attribute that employees are more aware of these days as well, and plays into attracting and retaining top talent.

Companie waste billions of dollars annually without even knowing it due to poor enterprise experiences that force users to find workarounds, go tribal, not use million-dollar packages effectively, and underperform. All of which impacts customers. I've spent many years advising clients that employees ARE their brand. Glad to it finally getting mainstream.

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Hi Rob, Sorry that the article sounds like “advertising.” Certainly wasn’t my intention and certainly not UXMagazines'.

You’re right to ask for more color, particularly when many stakeholders really do only care about the bottom line. If you’re talking about internal stakeholders – We’ve worked hard to make UX part of our company’s core strategy, so it is a powerful contributor to our bottom line and while we share a collected passion for usable software, we still need to get buy-in by discussing what's possible, and then backing it up with user research that tells us we’re solving the right problem.  

Simon mentions decision makers purchasing the products. We’ve been fortunate to find a majority of our customers are, as Simon said,  focused on reducing "time spent on training, time-to-complete tasks, support hours, stresses and frustrations” and they recognize well thought-out UI and usable software does just that—something that feature-rich and bloated enterprise solutions have lacked in the past. I hope that helps.

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This is a thinly disguised advertising article. It tells us nothing insightful or new. Get a mix of skills, get stakeholders involved, actually solve problems. *slow clap* Nothing here says how to get stakeholders intersted when they only care about the bottom line. Simon's comment is much more useful than the marketing fluff in this article.

Poor content, UXMag. Poor.

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The decision makers who purchase applications often are not the actual users. Those stakeholders must understand usability and consider usable application. The time spent on training, time-to-complete tasks, support hours, stresses and frustrations, etc. can significantly impact the efficiency which can be equal to money saved or wasted. People always choose usable over useful application I strongly believe.