The current disparity in software design is kind of funny when you think about it — at least if you’re a fan of dark comedies.
The applications we rely on for personal tasks like ordering pizza, hailing cabs, or finding local movie times are slick and intuitive. They’re continuously refined based on written and data-driven user feedback.
Yet, the enterprise software supporting Fortune 500 companies and running critical control systems —the stuff company profits, jobs, and lives depend on — is often clunky, prone to crashing and runs on obsolete technologies.
How did we end up here? And more importantly, how do we fix the enterprise app?
It’s not surprising consumer applications are leading the way in design. Build an unfriendly consumer app, and watch the competition eat your lunch. In effect, the consumer tech world is Darwin’s Galapagos Islands, where only the fittest remain relevant.
“Enterprise apps are a different beast,” says Thomas Murphy, principal application developer at ADP’s Innovation Lab. “Companies, especially larger ones, have historically purchased software based on scalability, regulatory compliance, price and familiarity.”
Considerations like ease-of-use are lost in the mix. This happens despite the fact these issues can eat up employee hours, increase input errors, and decrease engagement with the (presumably strategic) system. This ultimately reduces the value the company receives from the software.
Murphy is one of the lead architects for ADP’s new User Experience in its Innovation Lab in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood. He is immersed in efforts to consumerize ADP’s large product base.
Murphy says that, “enterprise software vendors have had little incentive to provide something as polished as that latest food delivery app from the Apple Store. It’s been better to stick with something that worked in the past.”
The situation is further exacerbated when big customers call the shots. They can push vendors to add or modify features for their own purposes, regardless of the impact on overall usability for everyone else.
It sounds a little cliché, but the solution for designers is to think like a startup.
“Startups are, ideally, free to use the latest and greatest technologies and incorporate the latest in user design,” said Murphy. “They can reimagine entire processes and are free to change things up based on user feedback without fear of stepping on entrenched interests. And they don’t have to cater to the specific demands of a few customers.”
That’s essentially the task before us here at the ADP Innovation Lab. We know the traditional paradigms for enterprise apps are being uprooted by consumer awareness of design and usability. ADP’s buyers are themselves consumers using nice apps every day. The user experience has become a big part of the purchasing equation.
We have an exciting opportunity to think like a startup but with all of the backing and resources of a company like ADP. And while advances like app-based food delivery are important — we are in New York City after all — this is a huge chance to put users at the forefront of design and innovation in a way that delivers more value than touch-screen pizza and Pad Thai choices.