What the M3 can teach Facebook

Very similar to the post from yesterday on my Gartner blog.

Those of you that read my last post will know that I spent the first day of my vacation at the Hockenheimring, doing an advanced driving course and track day.  I got to drive a very fancy chariot, an M3 E92. It has 420 horsepower.  It was an experience, but I have no plans to give up my day job and take on Sebastian Vettel.

Back to the M3.

It has a very fancy double clutch gearbox with Drivelogic.  It is an automatic and a manual.  It changes gear in milliseconds, depending on the aggression setting on the Drivelogic.

It has electronic damper suspension. (EDC)

It has Dynamic Stability Control (DSC)

It has variable servotronic steering support

And lots of other clever stuff

In the hands of a total amateur, these three letter acronyms stop you from fishtailing into the wall.  The default mode for all these settings is on. In order to override them, you need to know to hold down button A for 10 seconds and then press button B.  It then warns you that you have switched off the clever computer and it emails your friends and family your last will and testament.

Now Facebook is in trouble with another German Organization, the Hamburg Datenschutzbeauftrager, according to the Deutsche Welle. English Article here.  The Data Protection Commissioner,  Johanes Casper, had this to say.

A legal assessment by our office came to the conclusion that [Facebook’s] face recognition violates European and German law because Facebook is providing its users with contradictory and misleading information,” he added.

“A normal user doesn’t know how to delete the biometric data. And besides, we have demanded that biometric data be stored with the subject’s express consent. At first [any company] has to ask if the user wants their data stored or not. Facebook just gives them the possibly to opt-out. If you don’t opt-out, you’re not consenting.”

Facebook has a long history of confounding us all with their privacy settings, and it looks like the folks in Hamburg have had enough. Face recognition is the privacy equivalent of 420 horsepower without traction control. Facebook is about as far away from Privacy by Design as one can imagine.

I think I will do a what the M3 can teach ERP vendors post, but that will need to wait till I’m back at work.

The iPad and the Enterprise

(photo cc attrib. pntphoto thanks!)

 

I have seen several keynotes from software executives lately. I recollect that all of them had iPads in them.  Seasoned software executives have been getting positively giddy about the iPad.

It has given Steve Jobs a sales force that he didn’t know he had. It seems without really planning for it, the iPad has become the must have enterprise device.

But what I’ve not yet seen is the must have enterprise application on the iPad. Yes, I’ve seen some neat repurposed reports and simple entry screens  but I’ve not yet seen an application that makes me sit up and say wow, that is a new and fundamentally better process enabled by the device.  So far the innovation is all about Apple.

If the iPad  means that enterprise software companies build executive dashboards and actually get executives engaging with the software, then fine, okay, that is an improvement from where we are today, but it misses the big opportunity.

Just  fixing the executive user experience has a whiff of the Potemkin about it. It would be a whole lot better if the iPad helped to prompt a rethink of how everyone interacts with enterprise software. Today the iPad merely illustrates the chasm between the typical enterprise software user experience and delightful design.

On innovation

(image of Scott Berkun presenting via Chasingfun cc attribution. Thanks!)

In this interview on the O’Reilly blog Scott Berkun nails it.

How do you define "innovation"?

Scott Berkun: I strongly recommend people use this word as little as possible. It’s mostly a distraction. Many great ideas and breakthroughs were achieved without people worrying if they were innovative enough or not. They simply chose to try and solve a problem they or their customers cared about. And then later on, after the hard work was done, they were called "innovators." It’s a good word to let other people say about you, rather than use it in reference to yourself.

His book, The Myths of Innovation is a sharp, if short read. This quote encourages me to re-read it. Scott also has a blog.

The World Cup and HR analytics.

Several vendors have sent me links to World Cup related versions of their analytics tools. Some of them are really clever. I can drill down into skills, real time results and so on.  Neat stuff, mashing up data sources from all over the place, with compelling charts and stats, and good social sharing features. Easy to use, no training required.

Yet it is a sad indictment of analytics space in that vendors can quickly cook up engaging, immersing and rich dashboards for the World Cup, whereas most HR dashboards are poorly designed, unimaginative, dull and have very limited adoption. 

  • My advice to analytics vendors. Take the learning from how you have visualized football players and apply it to your workforce analytics offerings.
  • My advice to HR departments. Look at the World Cup dashboards and do it with your workforce data. You have the data, you have the tools. By the time Germany are crowned champions in a few weeks time you could have it built and deployed.

Application flexibility and the tree pose

Cross posted on my Gartner blog.

As some of my readers know I’m a keen but slow amateur cyclist. It is a sport that doesn’t really lead to flexibility, the opposite in fact. I need to stretch if I’m going to have any sort of suppleness, so I have made a conscious decision to stretch a lot. (Thanks Graeme

It works for Lance.

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I’ll admit to doing yoga poses while on client phone calls. Nothing like a tree or butterfly pose to focus the mind while discussing ERP upgrades or SaaS talent management vendors.

In my ever widening search for obscure metaphors, it seems to me that enterprise applications are a bit like cyclists. Unless they get stretched regularly, they loose their suppleness. They become rigid, which eventually undermines performance.

So many ERP and HCM projects start with good intentions. The project drives change, and then you go live. Then you stop stretching.Things ossify.

Can your system still touch its toes?

  • Do you have people in your organization who can help the systems flex or do you need to get in expensive SI resources to make changes?
  • How easy is the product for business experts to configure?
  • How can you easily test configuration changes?
  • More than these though, get over the idea that going live is the end of change. It should simply be the beginning.

Some of this is about the inherent suppleness of the technology, but even the most flexible technology turns rigid if you don’t embrace continuous change. Get that mat out.

GUI gooey

Next week I’m taking part in a 2 1/2 day workshop for Gartner Enterprise IT leader clients on SAP. We bring together about 40 IT leaders from various companies from across Europe as well as several analysts.

The session I’ll be leading will digging into UI and usability options and challenges. We will present an extensive survey we have done on SAP UI perceptions, and look at options with SAP and third party tools.

I’m receiving an increasing number of client calls about UI/UX options, be it making the best out of SAP, or alternative tools on augment or replace the standard UI experience. There has been a big growth in tools and options to improve user experience, especially for self service and transactions like sales order entry.

I’m expecting to write some research with Jim Murphy on SAP UI options and roadmap later this year too, so I’m on the look out for Ui innovations in the SAP world.

There is significant appetite for a better user experience, but it is easy to get carried away with the tools.  A client research note published by my colleagues Ray Valdes, Eric Knipp and David Mitchell Smith on HTML 5 and Flash makes for sobering reading. I’ll quote a bit that is relevant here.

The average enterprise will continue to make ineffective use of any and all available UI technologies. The root problem is not lack of powerful UI technology. Instead, the root causes for a suboptimal user experience consist of lack of appropriate process and governance, and lack of a genuine commitment to a quality user experience. Such a commitment would lead organizations to adopt a user-centered, usability-oriented development process. Rather than taking these steps, we see a lot of projects that are “stakeholder-driven” (i.e., driven by internal politics). Very few organizations center development around user needs by relying on objectively measured data about user behavior. Most enterprises don’t seem to care enough about the user experience to change their habits (in terms of processes that are developer-driven, vendor-driven and stakeholder-driven, rather than user-driven). The principles of creating effective user experiences are well-known among successful external-facing e-commerce or consumer sites, such as Amazon, eBay, Expedia or Facebook. Unfortunately, it will likely be a long time before these principles become part of the average enterprise skill set.

Developing a user experience that delights your users is not as much about the technology as it as about design. It is easy to knock the user experience of most standard software.  It is a lot harder to build something better yourself.

I hope it will be an interesting session. After our workshop the group and I  will go over and meet some of the SAP user interface team. I expect that meeting won’t be short of questions.

If you are interested in learning more about the Enterprise IT Leader SAP Peer Community, drop george dot martin at gartner dot com an email.

Usability doesn’t mean UI

I have mentioned many times that the latest, coolest UI technology doesn’t mean that an application has good usability. Good design requires ingenuity and creativity but it also requires discipline and a focus on details.

I you want to check how seriously a vendor takes usability, do this simple test. Have a look at the error messages. I’m not talking here about witty 404 errors, but the stuff that happens when the payroll currency  conversion field is incomplete.

If they are up to date, accurate and easy to to understand, chances are the application is too. If there are spelling mistakes, missing entries and unintelligible codes then the vendor’s commitment to usability is skin deep. 

Error messages aren’t hip, glamorous, or agile, but they are a window into the development ethos. Error messages are the canvas in a suit. 

Ask for a list of all error messages when you do your next vendor evaluation. You will learn more about the vendor’s commitment to usability and product quality than you will fathom from a slick demo.

Who’s to blame for "Excel hell?"

My blogging mojo had left the building for a while, but for better or worse it returned today.

When I speak to enterprise software vendors they often moan about Excel. They say it is not secure, and that most spreadsheets contain errors. They preach about the dangers of information silos, of decisions made on old and inaccurate data, the hours wasted in uploads, downloads and reconciliation and formulae creation. They are of course right. 

They are at a loss to understand why well-rounded, upstanding members of society, who pay their taxes, are loving but firm parents, drive assertively yet safely with their seatbelts fastened, and have decent golf handicaps let down by poor bunker play would chose to spend hours in Excel rather than use the vendor’s application to do a much better job for that particular process.

They then mutter and twitch or rant and foam about Excel hell.

image

(Dante’s hell via ing ing ing)

 

To Enterprise software makers, my plea.

Excel hell is not an evil Microsoft plot, or some sort of madness that descends upon otherwise sane managers and knowledge workers when they open the PC.  It is the fault of enterprise software failing to provide an alternative.

Most of the users who use your software for a significant part of their day do so because they have to if they want to get paid: accounts payable experts, call centre agents, payroll administrators and returns clerks, for instance. They can’t get up in the morning and say, “Today, I’ll use Lawson or Oracle, because I didn’t really like the feel of the SAP application I used to process those invoices yesterday.”  Admin users are in an arranged marriage. On some rare occasions, love blossoms, especially in the payroll department. Most of the time though, they seethe with quiet loathing.

Most employees in an organization are voluntary users for the vast majority of processes. They don’t have to log onto the employee skills dashboard every week to check if their team is on track for their development goals. If once a year they log on to the HR application, complete the appraisals as fast as they can, and get out of there, they will. Many top sales people spend as little time as they possibility can in CRM systems. Many poor salespeople spend considerable time logged onto CRM applications.

Now you can draw up long valid lists of reasons why enterprise applications are better for business processes than Excel (an ideal use for Excel). You can deliver fire and brimstone warnings about the damnation that is Excel hell (use Facebook to attract others to your cause).

Or you can ask yourself some hard questions about your own design thinking.

If you expect managers and knowledge workers to do serious value added work with your applications, rather than filling in the mandatory fields in travel expenses and fleeing back to email, then it is from the likes of Excel and Facebook that you must learn. Excel entices with simplicity for beginners and powerful freedom for experts. Facebook squeezes every drop out of the human desire to share and tell.

Neither application assumes just because you are a “user” that you will use the application.  When was the last time you had an enterprise application go viral?

I’m not disputing the need for standardised, disciplined processes. Heck, I have marched to that process drum most of my work life. But if enterprise applications want to really impact productivity, innovation and agility and do all that step changing, paradigm shifting, goalpost moving, blue oceaning stuff then yet more “process efficiency” is not the answer.  

When you log onto the enterprise applications in your own organisation, do you actually like using them? Have they helped you innovate? Can you you obey the 8th scout law while using them? 

Or do you have a secret excel with all the really cool stuff in?  And are you sure you didn’t forward a spreadsheet onto your sales team to fill in about the q4 pipeline, because you knew that it would take weeks to get it out of your CRM system?

When was the last time you fired up the enterprise application in a meeting and looked at the real numbers on the big screen?

You may think your competition is a venerable but still packs a punch  ERP vendor, and that darling of wallstreet oh-so-smug SaaS vendor, and several stealth but pedigree VC cloud virtual collaboration hypercool outfits.  Yes, but…..

stop, step away from the cookie jar

Call in the design thinking team. Create a design persona with competent Excel skills.

Add another column to your product planning strategy budget spreadsheet (I know that you are doing your product budget planning in a spreadsheet, rather than in that New Product Development Planning and Introduction Application you have). Add the following formula, please.

 

image

On user interfaces, the iPad and Charles Dickens.

Cross posted on my Gartner blog.

My colleagues, Ray, Allen, Mike, Mark, Andrew, Mark and Van,  are all over the iPad.  Ray’s posts are particularly thought provoking, as he looks at the strengths and weaknesses of the device. There is also lots of commentary on the web, and the consumer electronics bloggers have discussed its every detail.  I’m not going to talk about how cool or not the device is, how naff the name is or what impact it will have on the media industry, or how Steve Jobs dresses. Yet again, Apple created a Great Expectation, and managed it profoundly well.

I was thinking this morning about what impact this device could and should have on UI design. Most enterprise applications are bound by keyboard centric design thinking, basically what I call  navigation donuts. Almost every enterprise application I see is trapped in the amber of the table layouts that haven’t really fundamentally changed since the first screens appeared over 40 years ago.

Andy Bitterer commented in a recent note. (Gartner clients click here)

What would happen if Apple built a BI product? Users would probably love it and actually use it. There is hardly another company in any IT market that is considered a synonym for great design and usability. While Apple has not been known for going after the enterprise software market and rather focuses on consumer products, Apple could still easily use its visualization know-how to create an “iDecide,” “iReport” or “iAnalyze” product that was at least as attractive as those from the best-in-class vendors today. In fact, other BI vendors could learn from Apple how to build end-user-friendly and intuitive applications.

For all the talk from enterprise application vendors about user centric design and building engaging applications, the enterprise software world could really do with an Apple moment.

Many of the applications I see would not be out of place in Miss Havisham’s Mansion. The Enterprise UI design clocks stopped some time ago, and the usability wedding cake continues to rot.

So unchanging was the dull old house, the yellow light in the darkened room, the faded spectre in the chair by the dressing-table glass, that I felt as if the stopping of the clocks had stopped Time in that mysterious place, and while I and everything else outside it grew older, it stood still….It bewildered me, and under its influence I continued at heart to hate my trade and to be ashamed of home.

image

image from http://chantalpowell.wordpress.com/2008/07/31/miss-havishams-table/  a fascinating blog.

“I began to understand that everything in the room had stopped like the watch and the clock, a long time ago.” “Everything within my view which ought to be white had been white a long time ago, and had lost its lustre, and was faded and yellow.”