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.

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.

55 grammes, 11 bar and software design.

Sometimes design and engineering are about big and complex stuff. Suspension bridges, common rail diesel engines and polish payroll.

Sometimes design and engineering are about stripping things down to the barest minimum, with focus on a single purpose.

Like my new emergency bike pump.


It weighs 55 grammes but produces enough pressure to pump a tyre up to 11 bar.  It is made of carbon fibre. My hope is that I never have to use it.

I also have a big heavy floor pump, which I use several times a week.

In theory, they both do the same thing. But they couldn’t be more different.

When designers and developers  sit down to think about enterprise software, they  need to go deeper than just what the software is supposed to do. Not only do you need to get into the mind of the user, but you need to get into the mind of the user in the specific context in which they will use your solution.

Too often with enterprise software we end up lugging floor pumps up the hill.

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Chess, design and software

I used to be a vaguely competent chess player, and now, with my eldest child beginning to play, I’m renewing my interest in a game that gave me much happiness as a boy.  She is learning from the same book I did 30 years ago.

Via JP’s post on cemeteries, I was reminded of the Staunton Chess set.


(from flickrstream of alanlight, thanks)

Chess had been around for ages, and just about everybody used different piece designs. After all, the sets were often handmade, and there was very little formalised international chess. This began to change in the 1800’s, as chess boomed.

A gamesmaker, John Jaques, released the set in 1849. It was called the Staunton after the most  famous chess player of the time. Staunton was heavily involved in the marketing of the product, and wikipedia reckons this was one of the first examples of celebrity marketing.

A set of Chessmen, of a pattern combining elegance and solidity to a degree hitherto unknown, has recently appeared under the auspices of the celebrated player Mr. STAUNTON. A guiding principle has been to give by their form a signification to the various pieces – thus the king is represented by a crown, the Queen by a coronet, &c. The pieces generally are fashioned with convenience to the hand; and it is to be remarked, that while there is so great an accession to elegance of form, it is not attained at the expense of practical utility. Mr. STAUNTON’S pattern adopts but elevates the conventional form; and the base of the Pieces being of a large diameter, they are more steady than ordinary sets.

There are different theories as to the design of the pieces. The romantic theory is that Nathaniel Cook, Jaques’s brother in law, designed them, inspired by the Victorian infatuation with Greek architecture.  Elgin marbles and so on….

A second theory is that Jacques designed something himself that was easy and cheap to mass produce.

The reality is probably a mix of the two.

The design is great because it does several things.

1. reduces confusion through simplicity

2. The pieces are easy to recognise from several angles. Many design clues help you recognise the pieces. (height, weight, outlines, and small details)

3. They are stable, thanks to a heavy base

4. They easily repeatable due to mass production, and therefore cheap.

5. All the pieces work well together

6.  They are aesthetically pleasing, but don’t compete for attention with the game itself.


These are good principles for software.

1. A purpose

2- easy to use, lots of unobtrusive clues

3. stable

4. repeatable. (more industry, less craft)

5. great look and feel

6. work well with others

7. A means to an end

Too much software is built like pre-staunton chess sets. Too ornate, too idiosyncratic, too instable, too intrusive  and too expensive.

My advice to graduates wanting to work in the software industry.

My readers will know I have an abiding interest in Design Thinking, and how it can and must be applied to improve software.  I’m convinced that Design will become a critical skillset, not just for the creative types, but throughout the business.

I’m planning to do some more research on this, so if you know of innovative uses of design thinking,  especially if applied to HR type processes, then drop me a note.

If you are graduating from  University, and wondering what to do next,  I’d suggest you head over to Potsdam and spend a year learning about Design.


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