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The house that tech built: the key to an engaging enterprise software user experience

(Image credit: Image search: Shutterstock/nenetus)

Once considered a laggard in terms of innovation, today’s enterprise technology market is catching up with the frenetic pace of development of consumer technology. Businesses and providers alike have realised the critical role that workplace technology plays in engaging and enabling employees – and conversely the negative impact that poor technology can have on retention and motivation.

This recognition is leading to increased investment. According to Gartner, worldwide IT spend is set to increase 2.4 per cent this year, with the enterprise software market projected to grow 7.6 per cent. Generating return on investment, however, depends largely on whether employees actually use this technology, and the user experience that it offers has a large part to play in that.

Developer doubt

Developers embarking on an enterprise software project might ask themselves the following three questions:

1.      When employees are operating across multiple devices, how can I make sure they have a continuous, seamless experience?
2.      What does a great platform look like? Or, phrased another way, what is the common denominator for an exceptional user experience?
3.      How can I future-proof my technology to ensure that it keeps up with continuously shifting user & technology demands? How does integration with other platforms fit into this?

Laying the foundations

Before leaping in to address these questions, developers could benefit from taking a step back. Just as the best houses are built on strong foundations, the best technology emerges from robust groundwork. Creating an attractive front-end user interface is only valuable if the back-end technology underpinning it is powerful enough to deliver the predictability, speed and service that users expect and have been promised.

Let's take employee benefits software as an example. Enrolling in private medical insurance (PMI) used to be a cumbersome task, fraught with the possibility of human error, which has even greater ramifications when it concerns health. However, by automating the process through technology, this risk is significantly reduced and the process simplified. Employees can log in to their benefits software to apply for PMI and enter the required information into the system, which is then sent automatically to the insurer to generate a policy. For the employee, the system is easy, intuitive and reliable – key to a rewarding user experience.

Make sure the important rooms are in place

On top of a strong foundation, most people who enter a house expect it to offer some common functionality: a bathroom, bedroom, kitchen. The same is true for technology.  While the number of consumer applications multiplies daily, most commonly used ones offer a remarkably similar interface. 

Using well-known iconography – a cog for settings, the now-incongruous floppy disk for save, shopping carts – helps to create a sense of familiarity for software users, instantly making the software recognisable, reducing the learning curve and improving their experience.

Enterprise technology developers need to be acutely aware of how their audience interacts with consumer technology daily, and consider how they can draw on this to make their own B2B products more intuitive. 

Open the doors (and windows)

Just as a house must be connected to the outside world, enterprise technology needs to be open to other software.

As the number of consumer applications increases, so too does the desire for simplicity, and technologies that consolidate and pull information sources together. The likes of Alexa and Siri would serve little purpose if they were unable to communicate with the information sources and apps they rely on.

Enterprise technology needs to be mindful of this shift and ensure it is fully embedded with any software that its users might rely on to organise their lives, be that in or out of work. This will be key to ensure that there is no discrimination between the experience offered to consumers and employees. If workers are using one productivity tool, then it makes sense for other technologies, such as benefits software, to integrate with this. In turn, this means that users are offered better access to their benefits in whatever way suits them, increasing engagement.

Make it a smart home

New technologies are evolving all the time, permeating our homes and workplaces. Virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) offer new possibilities for how we engage with technology, either through the out-of-body experience offered by VR or the blurred distinction between reality and digital offered by AR and MR. Such tools can be used to make technology more engaging, or streamline the user experience by making it easier to interact with the technology itself.

If we return to benefits software as an example, VR can be used to help employees experience the impact of potential benefits decisions by visualising their outcomes. What better way to illustrate how increased retirement savings can improve quality of life in the later years than by showing employees directly? Bring AI into the equation and we can see benefits software carrying out tasks without requiring a direct input, for example adding new-born children to medical insurance when maternity or paternity leave is taken.

If such technology is to be more than just a gimmick, and rise above the level of the talking fridge or the connected toothbrush, it needs to map seamlessly onto existing technology and add real value that employees can’t get elsewhere.

Developer doubt revisited

Earlier, I outlined three questions that developers might ask themselves when looking to create a new piece of enterprise software. It should be clear by now that there really is only one answer: build from the ground-up – not the top-down – and the rest will follow. You can’t build a beautiful first floor extension without the foundations or ground floor.

Doing so will develop a scalable technology able to offer the same user experience regardless of the device, platform or medium its being accessed through. It will create software that is capable of flexing to meet user demand, that integrates seamlessly with the technology that consumers are already using, and accommodates the future needs of users and the wider market.

James Akers, Head of Product Management, Thomsons Online Benefits
Image search: Shutterstock/nenetus

James Akers
James Akers is Director of Product Management at Thomsons Online Benefits. With responsibility for the company’s strategic product vision, he is helping to shape the evolution of the Darwin platform.