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I've come to notice that a lot of software that companies use for managing things like time, expenses, setting up phone systems, etc is very non-intuitive from a user experience point of view. I know personally I waste a lot of time just trying to figure out how to navigate these systems, especially if I don't have a co-worker close by who I can bug to help me out. The help files are usually just as bad as the user interface itself. Are companies that complacent or are there just not any comparable enterprise products out there which do the job for these sorts of tasks? It seems that on the consumer side there is plenty of market opportunity for creating better user experiences, but how about for enterprise software? Obviously a certain level of slickness is not going to matter to a company, but when a better UX design translates to time saved, it's hard to argue against that.

Edit: I'm not referring to in-house applications, but rather off the shelf systems from large software companies.

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Of course it matters. Bad design is how mistakes and accidents happen. –  Austin Henley Dec 17 '12 at 6:36
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Some of the most successful enterprise software has the worst UI. Lotus Notes, etc. –  Nemanja Trifunovic Dec 17 '12 at 14:54
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Related: ux.stackexchange.com/questions/19936/… –  Dan Neely Dec 17 '12 at 15:41
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We make enterprise software and our problem (from the sales perspective) is, that our technology is superior to our competitors, but our UI sucks. But I have seem much SAP and Oracle stuff, which had a very bad UI and still made the pitch... –  K.. Dec 17 '12 at 16:20
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10 Answers

up vote 30 down vote accepted

It matters a lot. Good UX increases productivity.

If UX is good, the company can focus on "how to do their stuff" instead of "how to use your software to do their stuff", and it takes less time to teach new workers.

And, good UX will drastically decrease the number of support tickets, so you can spend more time on resolving serious issues rather than "how to use" issues.

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Sadly however, it tough to convince the powers to release funds and time to develop a good UI. –  CaffGeek Dec 17 '12 at 14:26
    
@CaffGeek: Estimate the amount of hours for a month an average worker loose because of bad UI. Multiply it with average hourly wage. Multiply that with number of workers. Present the calculation to business as how much money they'd save. By putting money into the equation; if the monetary pain reported is high enough then they'll release the funds to fix the problem. –  Spoike Dec 17 '12 at 22:42
    
@Spoike in theory, that works. In practice, it's still a tough sell. –  CaffGeek Dec 18 '12 at 0:12
    
@Spoike - that argument never worked for .NET or Java. If you write your app in C/C++ it would perform better and all those users would see the benefits in better startup time and responsiveness, but the powers that be figured programmer productivity was more important (ie cheaper for them) and so we end up with unwieldy crap apps. No-one cares for the users, not the company making stuff (make it cheaper!) or the company buying it (sales trip to the golf course or sell it cheaper!). –  gbjbaanb Dec 18 '12 at 13:10
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I had similar experiences with you. I believe the following dynamics/factors are in place with enterprise software and UI.

  1. As stated in another answer the person that will sign the purchase of the software is different than the person that will use it and different that the person that will maintain it. So purchase is made based on "features" or some other factors.
  2. A timeless classic read about this is Joel Spolsky's "Five Words", "internal" section: "Here usability is a lower priority, because a limited number of people need to use the software, and they don't have any choice in the matter, and they will just have to deal with it." There is no choice. Users cannot opt for an alternative. Additionally many times such software is developed internally, from an internal department acting as a self imposed artificial monopoly (another nice article about is this: http://37signals.com/svn/posts/2785-the-end-of-the-it-department)

  3. Also to be honest many times it does not matter, so no financial sense to make it UI better. Examples: (1) I just use such software 10 minutes each week, not as often as my email client (an hour per day or so), which means that it does not matter that much. (2) The worst (from UX perspective) software I have used was for logging time spend, which took place once per month for five to ten minutes each month. It did not annoy me that much.

  4. ROI of learning curve. It might be annoying to learn to use software with the UI you describe and also time consuming, but this effort will be an one-off for all the time of my employment. Usually such software stays for five or more years, so time invested (a day/two) is nothing in the long run.
  5. Because of common long life span (have encountered a 10 year installation), it could have been state of the art when it was introduced, but looking odd to modern eyes.
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Another factor is that you can't "test drive" software. The decision to go with an enterprise solution is done months/years before the first real users log in and try to find the "f%^^ing timesheet!" As stated by dimistris, there isn't an alternative that they can try out and decide to switch to, so there's nothing left to say. Without very clear cost numbers on hours wasted on the existing system versus hours saved on a new one, the IT managers will not be interested in hearing about how they should throw away a $1M platform because its "hard to use". –  Graham Dec 17 '12 at 14:17
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Absolutely it does - only the trouble with "Enterprise" software is that it is sold entirely on feature sets, to managers who don't have to use it (or even look at it), by smarmy salesmen who know all the tricks of getting such software sold.

This is one reason why a lot of companies moved to open-source software - apart from the other reasons like cost, OSS tends to have a better UX than the enterprise stuff, which means people like to use it.

I hope this is a lesson to all the commercial software companies out there, that a good UI is a serious advantage to the product, but they'll still make shi**y UIs because it costs and provides no 'feature' benefits.

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Maybe it depends who pays for the software.

  • Enterprise software might be bought by the IT director. They probably just look for a list of features. They'll have a hard time persuading their CEO and board to pay more money for usability.
  • Consumer software is bought by the consumer, or paid for by advertising. Either way, usability is very important. Otherwise the software business will die.
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I write enterprise software and UX matters to me and my team an awful lot, but in my experience UX has not been as important a factor as it should on the sales side.

Typically the people signing the cheque to pay for the software are not the people using it, so what they're interested in is not ease of use but that their high-level actions are defensible.

If you're the executive whose job is on the line if the software 'fails' then you don't really care about UX, you care about being able to say that you bought it from a well known name. You care about a feature list, the contract and your job; everything else is a distant second.

The decision maker on which product a company is going to buy will get sent all sorts of free stuff (I've seen things like a Ferrari for a week). They may also be answerable to shareholders (or even voters) who generally want big IT deals to go to companies they've heard of (which is why enterprise companies like IBM and SAP advertise heavily).

Meanwhile the developers don't use the software either. They're part of a huge team and they're working off a list of features to complete, but often they don't really understand how anyone would use that software in the real world. Most enterprise software is Themware. Note that those developers may well be excellent, they're just isolated from the users.

All that said it does appear to be getting better. Companies are dog-fooding more and are beginning to understand how important UX is in the long term success of big IT projects.

I've pushed UX in terms of how much it saves in staff training and the real cost savings of reduced support (fewer calls for help). There's a constant balance between adding the new functionality that might win new business and making our existing functionality as easy and obvious to use as we can. A healthy balance for us (I think) but it's easy to see how that could get out of whack.

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Of course it matters, but companies simply learned to live with it. Instead of creating pressure through demand on developer companies to create applications with good UX, they accepted that most, if not all, business software has bad UX.

It is hard to tell if managers and businessmen see any kind of reason for good UX or are they simply ignorant of it.

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The cost of such software, both initially and set up costs tends to be very high, once implemented it's unlikely that a business will start to use it and then stop based on the UX. This won't be so true of consumer level software where the cost of switching will be less prohibitive.

This means people have to stick with stuff that would otherwise be dropped quickly from a UX perspective. Given time you will work out how the software works, good or bad and so when much further down the line when re-evaluating the product that is less of an issue than had you never used it.

That will mean that when it comes time to renew a business will be less inclined IMO to switch to something else, which in turn means the company developing the software won't need to update the UX as much as a consumer product would.

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Unfortunately, the definition of "good" in many cases turns out to be "what looks slick in a demo". I used to work on enterprise systems, and most of the UX design docs ran along the lines of "make this work like Facebook/Twitter/Angry Birds". We had some incredibly popular features in the last system I worked on that were absolutely horrible -- expensive to generate in terms of system resources, and very simplistic in terms of capabilities. However, they showed data as diagrams that you could click on, and the diagrams moved and rearranged themselves on the screen as you worked with them. Time for an experienced user to reconcile an invoice tripled (at least), but it looked so cool in demos that we won lots of sales based on it.

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Didn't see this mentioned, but you have to think of this also...

you want people to use it. If the UX isn't good or has too high of a learning curve, not intuitive, clunky etc the end user won't want to use it and if you are designing software they are your customer. If they are happy with it chances are you'll never hear any praise about it but if they are unhappy you better expect to hear about it.

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This is actually less of a factor with enterprise-class systems, since the end-users rarely have any say in the selection or specification of the system. –  TMN Dec 17 '12 at 15:47
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In the absence of good UX, software that is merely useful will catch on, because people need to get their work done.

Useful and usable software will trump useful but hard-to-use software--if users get a choice (and if the difference is big enough to get over the 'familiarity' hump). But with Enterprise applications, you usually have a captive audience, and the users are NOT the ones making a purchase decision.

So, yes, UX matters, and its importance can be hidden behind conflated factors like price, familiarity, and inertia.

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