Forecast Bleak for Bad UIs

January 4, 2012
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The days of developing enterprise applications wherein the User Interface is an afterthought are rapidly coming to an end, and enterprise software companies had better adjust. Steve Jobs and Apple started the shift, and while Apple’s products were oriented toward the consumer, the business world is now driving the need for user friendly applications. (Open your eyes and you’ll see quite a few Vice Presidents of major corporations showing up for meetings with iPads, not PCs. )

The days of developing enterprise applications wherein the User Interface is an afterthought are rapidly coming to an end, and enterprise software companies had better adjust. Steve Jobs and Apple started the shift, and while Apple’s products were oriented toward the consumer, the business world is now driving the need for user friendly applications. (Open your eyes and you’ll see quite a few Vice Presidents of major corporations showing up for meetings with iPads, not PCs. )

Meanwhile, business users, for the most part, remain resigned (or sentenced) to the tedium of navigating the pathetically arcane and clunky UIs provided by the IBMs, Oracles and SAPs of the world. Some progress has been made, but sales people still struggle with their ERPs, business analysts still need three days to figure out how to create a purchase order and HR departments remain at risk for carpel tunnel syndrome on a massive scale as they scroll through dozens of screens just to add an employee into the system.

So what happens when the world of the friendly, intuitive, even fun user interface meets that of the overburdened, non-technical business user? More importantly, what happens when the non-technical, overburdened, business user is a CEO who makes multi-million dollar software buying decisions?

As an illustration, consider the Nest Thermostat from Nest Labs. Designed by Tony Fadell, who just happens to have been one of the design brains behind the iPod and iPhone, the Nest Thermostat does more than just combine aesthetics with functionality; it adds ease of use. Without thinking, without trying, without wrestling with an owner’s manual (90% of all programmable thermostats are so difficult to program, no one does it) the homeowner can optimize his or her energy usage, save money (and help save our environment), make a political statement (“No more foreign oil!”), and last but not least, always be warm in winter and cool in summer.

So, what’s that got to do with SAP, IBM and Oracle? That’s easy. They are all great transactional systems of record, but when it comes to essential business use cases like BI, they are seriously deficient. In simple terms, only an impolite allusion to drinking out of a straw would describe their efficacy within the BI spectrum. And their efforts to mitigate this problem by purchasing edge applications (Cognos, Hyperion, Business Objects, etc.) have only made it worse. Companies using these traditional solutions often need armies of IT resources and consultants to take on issues like implementation, optimal use cases and change management.

So back to that CEO: after hours, days, weeks and months of strategy and implementation meetings; after wrangling over roadmaps and fighting over budgets, he goes home to an optimally cooled or warmed environment, and he sees that it’s all because of a beautifully-designed, technically-sophisticated and easy to use thermostat. And, he says to himself: “Why can’t the technology environment at my company be like this?” Little does he know, insofar as BI is concerned, it can.Image