Corporate software complies with business requirements - but it seldom complies with user experience rules, says Pedro Janeiro.
My client had created a monster. In 30 countries over 5,000 people were served by a complex software custom built over 12 years. Every month there were new additions to it, at a staggering rhythm and no one was up to date any longer, despite all updates published in the intranet.
Sounds familiar to you? Corporate software is usually far more complex than your average website, but that’s not a good excuse. The truth is that users do not forgive a bad website – and quickly move on to the next site – but tend to accept bad corporate software.
When it comes to corporate software, you blame yourself. You skipped the four-hours induction training. You didn’t read the manual. You think you’re stupid – everyone else is using it. If the software returns an error, you tend to assume that it was your fault – it’s either your wrong data input or your wrong flow of transactions.
My client was beyond this – the monster software was alive – in one day it seemed to work fine, but it would refuse to work the same way the next day. It had bad humour, bad temperament. And people surrendered to the monster. The so called bad temperament was the consequence of daily patches being added to the software, and correcting a transaction in Germany would disrupt something in Turkey and Spain. Excel spreadsheets sprouted throughout the company to complement the increasingly unreliable information from the software.
Productivity was consistently low, every day, for five thousand people in 30 countries, for years. Finally, a war was declared – the mistrusted slow monster had to come down, but how to replace it?
How could it become simple, flawless, require zero training and easy to use as a good website?
Corporate software complies with business requirements, but it seldom complies with user experience rules. However, the deep insight is that it rarely complies with service design. It contains the business rules but it misses the human approach.
The smartest business consultants together with the smartest programmers have produced some of the clumsiest software out there. Quite simply, because in the end of the day, it will be used by people and they are out of the equation.
My client is going through the painful process of putting their people back in the equation. It costs more time, more money and more discussions. It’s no longer just about bits and bytes. It’s about how people do things.
It requires deep field work on how business processes really happen today because most people deciding on business processes are senior staff and talk about their crystalized view of the world from the days when they were working at an operational level. And totally reject that they have a crystalized view of the world. It’s only human – a very natural reaction that turns into pleasant surprise when confronted with the evidences of today’s reality.
And then redesign the corporate software not according to what users request – shocking but essential. Henry Ford is quoted as saying that if he’d asked people what they wanted, they would have said “a faster horse”. Well, we have to go beyond this - It’s about what the person wants to do with the faster horse, and it is usually about moving from A to B. And to do that, a car might not be the best option nowadays, despite Mr. Ford’s historical success.
It’s painful because it costs more money now, but it will bring plenty of productivity in the future for thousands of users, for many years. Let’s kick temperamental software out of the corporate world.
Pedro Janeiro is head of business design at Novabase