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Is User Engagement with Enterprise Software all that Important?

Deloitte Debates


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Everybody knows that for customer-facing Web sites, user engagement is a big deal.
But how important is it for internal users of enterprise software?

Enterprise software does a lot of things very well. It can help companies in their efforts to achieve greater control over their processes, make sure orders are fulfilled on time, keep supply chains running smoothly, whatever. Who cares whether internal users of these advanced systems are satisfied with how they interact with them? This is a question that’s being asked a lot more frequently these days, as companies debate the merits of giving users the same types of smooth, intuitive experiences they enjoy elsewhere. Does it really matter? Or is user engagement just unnecessary window dressing for internal users? 

Here’s the debate:

  Point Counterpoint

Yawn.

There are more important issues to deal with

It’s more important to focus on underlying processes, data and implementation. It doesn’t have to be pretty. An intuitive user experience is one of the simplest ways to make sure your focus on processes, data and implementation pays off. Without adoption and use, investments in processes and tools will never deliver their intended value.
It’s risky. Expect marginal returns on a significant investment of resources. Wouldn’t it be smarter to spend that time on other things? It may have been risky five or ten years ago, but the technology that’s available today changes the game. There are tools that make creating a robust, high-quality user interface easier than ever before to enhance workflow and system controls.
Despite all the internal whining, the out-of-the-box user experience for these legacy enterprise applications isn’t that bad. Plus, the makers of these apps are actively working to improve the experience with every release. There are a ton of examples of intuitive, user-friendly systems that most people frequently use that are much easier/useful than the legacy enterprise application tools they are forced to use. Most major retailers provide excellent examples of simple effective UI design. Go visit one of them and compare/contrast your interface. Case closed.
We’ve been doing things more or less the same way for years. It may not be perfect, but it’s working. What could your users accomplish if they didn’t have to work around a bunch of artificial technology silos?
  Point Counterpoint

It’s a big deal.

Improving the user experience is an excellent way to get more return on big investments in enterprise software

If you get it right, user experience can reduce training costs, increase adoption rates and make employees more effective. Isn’t that worth it? Training costs aren’t that high to begin with and there are other ways to drive adoption. I don’t care if they think it’s pretty.
New tools and standards like Livecycle, Silverlight and HTML5 provide the foundation for video, dynamic content and personalization - with data integration features to tie into existing legacy custom or packaged applications. New tools? That’s just adding more technical complexity somewhere else – not to mention raising costs upfront and through the life of the system.
This is a chance to create real consistency across systems, which will result in a more user-centric (rather than system-centric) environment. That’s a big deal. Users should be smart enough to be able to transition from system to system. And if they’re not, we can train them. This isn’t rocket science.

My Take

Paul ClemmonsPaul Clemmons, Principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP

I hear the same thing from IT executives all the time. They tell me that in a perfect world, their enterprise software would deliver a seamless user experience. The real world is different, they say and these days it’s hard to make the case for something that seems like an inconvenience rather than a real obstacle to achieving business results.

While I understand their reaction, my experiences have demonstrated to me time and time again that user engagement can have a real, measurable impact on business results. It isn’t just about making users feel better about their experience. Consider the example of a power plant that was using an enterprise software application to manage plant maintenance efforts. Only a fraction of the total number of actual service requests were being tracked in the system, because users didn’t think it was worth it to have to tangle with the interface. They would simply find other ways to solve problems. But after we helped them in their efforts to put a new front end on the system to improve the user experience, service requests spiked by an order of magnitude. Plus, the company was able to achieve significant user adoption with virtually no training costs. As a result, the company was able to more accurately track service trends using rich data, improving their overall effectiveness.

If that sounds boring, well, that’s the point. User engagement isn’t about some new age, feng shui approach to business. It’s about results – often in the most mundane parts of the business. And for many of the companies I work with, that’s where it counts the most. They’re looking to increase productivity and user adoption, reduce training costs, gain flexibility and get more value from their investments in enterprise software. Even better, these are all measurable.

Improving user engagement can have an outsized impact when considered within the context of your organization’s huge investments in enterprise software solutions. Because if your people aren’t using the software to its full power, you’re not getting the results you signed up for.

A view from the Consumer Products sector

Alan Langhals, Principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP

Consumer products companies know how important it is to understand consumer needs and behaviors. Most would say that’s at the very core of what they do. It’s why their websites are polished to a sparkle and why they spend countless resources on product performance and packaging. So why would the needs and behaviors of internal constituents be considered any less important by these companies? Business technology users don’t shut off their expectations as consumers when they arrive at their workplace. They expect the same ease of use and intuitive experience from their on-the-job systems. And if they don’t get it, employee satisfaction and ultimately user adoption can suffer.

User adoption is an important first step toward realizing business value from big investments in enterprise systems. Take the example of “Acme,” a company that relied on a technology solution to strategically plan, manage and administer its marketing and trade promotion investment. For consumer products companies, these investments in capturing the consumer are often their second largest line item on the company income statement – not to mention they are a lifeline to retail partners and consumers. Acme’s main competitor, “Beta,” relied on the exact same tool, subscribing to the belief that just by installing the technology, it would eventually realize benefits such as improved insight, additional control over its investments and increased customer satisfaction. It went with a “vanilla” implementation, bypassing the needs of internal users. Who, in turn, bypassed the system itself.

Meanwhile, Acme engaged its sales and marketing teams in the program from the start. With an intense focus on usability and adoption, the company built a solution that offered deeper functionality and greater controls over the basic software, while providing front-line users with the information they needed to conduct customer negotiations. Just as important, with adoption rates of 100 percent, the executive management team was able to extract valuable market insights that would help drive decisions regarding product development, pricing and service. In the end, Acme attributes more than $500 million in benefits over three years to the system, catapulting from “lagging” to “best in class” practically overnight.

I worked with Acme and I’ve seen the same story repeated over and over in the consumer products industry (and beyond). The core technology is important. But how the solution looks, feels and works for users is a big part of the value it delivers in the real world.

A view from the Government sector

Sundhar Sekhar, Principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP

Many of the state and federal government organizations I work with are a virtual mirror image of the private sector companies we work with. They have operating budgets that equal or exceed those of many Fortune 500 companies. And their ability to execute is significantly influenced by the effectiveness of the business automation tools they’ve invested in. Like many Fortune 500 companies, the user experience for these solutions leaves a lot of value on the table.

In many cases, it seems that the user experience is little more than an afterthought following implementation. That’s unacceptable in an environment where today’s technology makes it relatively easy to shield users from all the underlying widgets, enterprise services, relational tables and complex SOA architectures that support data and information flow. This allows users to experience the same ease of use that their customers experience.

This is a particularly acute problem for government organizations, which are simply unable to sustain the high costs of bringing their staff up to speed on new and legacy solutions. Plus, new employees entering the government workforce bring all the high expectations that they have as consumers and they’re digitally savvy, accustomed to internet-enabled experiences. This so-called “consumerization of enterprise applications” holds big implications for government organizations looking to get more return on big investments in technology solutions.

By focusing on the user experience – both internal and public-facing- repetitive tasks can be automated across a workforce that numbers in the thousands, to help create huge opportunities for operational efficiencies. And that’s a big deal for government organizations that need to do more with less.

Related Content:

Library: Deloitte Debates
Services: Consulting, Technology and Emerging Solutions
Industries: Consumer Products, U.S. State and Federal Government

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