Talk about "Modern Information Management Software" (or "Modern Enterprise Software") and you'll immediately get eye rolls as people picture images of legacy solutions born in the 1990's. Many of these large software solutions have unfortunately not evolved significantly in terms of usability or technology over the last years, having opted instead for adding more and more features that ultimately make the solution even more complex.
But starting now, these software systems are in for a big change. From CRMs to ERPs to Content Management, market analysts are predicting seismic shifts in these products as five major trends hit us all.
1. New Solutions Driven by the Demand for SaaS
A recent EbizQ article projects the SaaS market will balloon to $21.3 billion in revenue through 2015.
"Corporations," they say, "are increasingly less concerned with issues such as security, availability and performance that were once viewed as significant stumbling blocks to the growth of SaaS. The growth of industry giant Salesforce.com is a testament to this – the multi-billion dollar corporation holds some of the most critical data a company can have: their customer and prospect data."
Now the race is on for vendors to design and build SaaS versions of their flagship products. Creating a new product means an opportunity to capture new audiences by renewing both design and workflow, while keeping the solution comfortingly familiar for current users. The key to success will be a balancing act between the fresh and the familiar, luring new customers while pleasing your bread-and-butter users.
Ah, browser inconsistencies. Every web developer's favourite topic, right?
We all remember what it was like supporting Internet Explorer 6, and 7, and 8, all for the same product. It was a nightmare! Weeks of wasted effort, all because what worked in one version of IE didn't work in another.
But we're past that now, aren't we? Every mobile browser supports HTML5 and CSS3. We should be safe with mobile Safari. Right?
There is a bunch of us at Macadamian who are volunteering as mentors for a small group of High-School students interested in software product development. The kids picked a small project to work on, and we're helping them to turn it into a product.
Of course, the main interest of the kids is technology and actual coding but, as part of the mentoring, we're also helping them with some of the things that surround development. For example, we set them up on GitHub and taught them the basics of source control.
Yesterday, I had the privilege of meeting them for the first time and, as one of those non-coding activities, we ran a bit of a design workshop where we spent time on the whiteboard wireframing the UI for a particular user story for their application.
It was really cool to break down the specific story into the various bits and to sketch a UI with them. We got them to get their first ideas on the board, and then challenged their design using the personas they had defined in previous weeks. By asking questions like "Would Tony really know what to pick here?" they were able to break down their assumptions (which were based on the physical model of the data) and redesign a UI which was more respectful of the user's mental model and their context of use.
At one point during the session, one of the kids turned to me and asked: "Do you really do this on projects?". I must have had this stupid grin on my face when I answered "yes". The voice in the back of my head was saying: "Can you believe that I get paid to do this?".
By the end of the session, we had a complete workflow documented that they will be able to go out and code this week. And the kids had a glimpse of one of the non-coding parts of what turns a piece of software into a product.
I'm really excited to see how it turns out.
I was at a client site earlier this week. It's amazing to see how much people believe design can help their future successes. The level of awareness of design in software products these days is very high. At the same time, how to go about rigorous design is still quite a nebulous endeavor for most. So because design is not only about pretty screens and icons, what more do I need to consider then?
Some time ago, I wrote about a haircut experience I had a few years back where I was truly impressed great customer experience . Recently, I tried a hair salon where the customer experience had been thought through to the extreme - or so I thought.