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Business Is Losing The App Usability Battle

Traditional business applications don’t fare well compared to consumer options. Is it time for companies to focus more on the user experience and less on application performance?

Business use tends to drive a lot of technology advancement. The Web never would have taken off if people had to rely on the lousy home dial-up services of the 1990s. But they knew something better was possible thanks to the fast, interactive Web they experienced at work. The rise of mobile was spurred by corporate-provided "CrackBerrys" and not the minimally capable general-use cell phones of the early 2000s.

But during the last few years we've seen a dramatic change in this dynamic. Now, the office is where people use outdated equipment that runs applications that were clearly not designed with usability at the top of the list. Home is where you have a fast Internet pipe, state-of-the-art devices, and applications that are highly usable and interactive.

The BYOD movement is an example of this switch. Dissatisfied with company-provided smartphones, employees use their own iPhones, Androids and tablets, forcing businesses to adapt to this dynamic or completely lose control over their technology environments.

But this trend is moving beyond mobility and into business applications and services. It used to be that business applications could get away with mediocre design and usability. After all, employees had nothing to compare these applications to, and didn't have other choices.

Now employees know exactly what a smart, intuitive interface looks like. First-generation enterprise social networking apps are met with scorn by people accustomed to Facebook and Twitter. Personal email, calendaring and contact systems are tightly integrated into your employees' everyday lives, but at the office they need to come up with workarounds and extra steps just to make the company email system meet basic needs like collaboration.

What does this mean for IT and developers? User experience and functionality are now arguably more important than performance testing and optimization. After all, most users can get by with minor degradations in application performance. But if an application isn't designed from the get-go to provide a good user experience, that application is dead on arrival.

Luckily, business attitudes toward application functionality and user experience may be changing. In data collected for my report on mobile application performance, 35% of responding organizations said that one of the key strategic actions they intend to take in order to improve application user experience is to perform more functionality testing in the development stage. Also, 55% of respondents said that they plan to use end-user experience to inform application design and changes.

This is a good start, and it doesn't come a moment too soon. Your employees know what a good application looks like, and many enterprise tools suffer by comparison. View Full Bio

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User Rank: Apprentice
11/15/2012 | 6:28:41 PM
re: Business Is Losing The App Usability Battle
Hi Boris,
Interesting to see this comment. Recently I was meeting with an ITMS vendor and I complimented them on their UI, remarking that it reminded me of the interfaces found in some of the better open source content management systems. They said that it was an intentional design decision on their part.
User Rank: Apprentice
11/10/2012 | 12:53:43 AM
re: Business Is Losing The App Usability Battle
I couldn't agree with you more. As a mobile developer I am seeing many more business contacting us regarding re-doing there in office systems to be more mobile compatible with a better user interface. I think soon business will really embrace the concept that good UI that people like can help improve productivity and decrease costs overall while increasing profits. They will also see how a mobile strategy is just as important as a web one.


Larry Addles
Boris Kraft
Boris Kraft,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/9/2012 | 9:45:38 AM
re: Business Is Losing The App Usability Battle
I think the main reason why enterprise software UI's have been so poorly designed is simply because companies could get away with it. Usability is not something you can add as an icing on the software cake, it needs hard work starting before you even write a single line of code. It demands a completely different skill set and approach than that of a software developer, and hence it costs money that seemed easy to save. But as you pointed out, it is changing. Companies don't get away with it anymore, and have to invest in usability. For an example of how the future of enterprise software looks like, check out (my company's) - this is a product that has been rethought, and rebuild with a mobile-first mindset, and the result is a much much better user experience, reduced complexity and higher flexibility at the same time.
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