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.

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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.

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.”

Steering wheels and application UIs.

The Benz museum in Ladenburg is a regular haunt of mine. In walking distance of my house I can see one the of the first cars ever made.

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It is  one of the finest collection of vintage and significant cars as you will find anywhere, other than at the other Benz  museum in Stuttgart. It is my sad affliction to think about software design at the weekends, and the Benz museum provided some ideas on usability.

This is an early French  racing car. a 1921 Amilcar. 28 horsepower, 908cc motor.

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This is the steering wheel of a formula one  championship  winning car. Comment below if you can tell me whose.

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It would overwhelm most of us, but for the best drivers in the world, every switch is vital and a lot of thought went into its layout. It is a User interface built for one.

The problem with a lot of business application software is that it has as many buttons and switches as the example above, but most users would be better of with the Amilcar layout. Most users just want to get in and drive. It is only when you really get to know your user that you can actually design something that works for them.

On another note, It is a very child friendly museum. 

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