One has to put oneself in the context of the moment. This is the era of “web 2.0” or “social web”, where the Internet user finally becomes an actor and contributor to an Internet of which he was only a passive spectator until then. In addition to this, the interfaces and user experience are radically transformed. It’s clean, pretty, fluid, reactive, we were amazed by AJAX which allowed to make web interfaces as never seen before.
For younger people who didn’t experience this liberating era it was the era of blogs, wikis, Google was becoming popular, Youtube made video distribution easy (and didn’t belong to Google) and there was barely any mention of Facebook, which wouldn’t reach the general public until a few years later.
In comparison, enterprise software was like a dinosaur from a simple ergonomic point of view and the collaborative and contributive uses of the so-called web 2.0 were totally unnatural for businesses, even though some of them quickly grasp its potential.
For the record, it was at this time that I left HR and management consulting to create the Professional Services department of a small French startup called blueKiwi Software, which will be well known later on. If I say that it’s because the product was born at the request of a large company (which I believe will never be a customer) who faced a problem of knowledge management and said “if we had in the workplace what exists on the Internet we would be able to capture the knowledge of our employees in an easier way“. At the time we didn’t even know how to qualify the product because the term “social network” was only going to be popularized 2 years later by Facebook, so ” enterprise social network” was out of the question. In the meantime, this shows the trend and the hopes of the time, even if it took about ten years for it to become a reality.
However, IT remains a recurring matter of complaints – even jokes – among employees.
The designers and UI people did the job!
Let’s give credit where credit is due, on the user experience and interface side things have come a long way since then. It was important to understand the usefulness of completely redesigning the interface of products that employees were forced to use and for which it was felt that the user experience was of little importance.
But new players have turned the game upside down by starting to tickle the established players, the latter also ending up buying out some of them, forcing the standardization of UX between products. Fortunately, this levelling was done from the bottom up. Moreover, the established players felt the danger represented by young products that entered the organization “under the radar” because they appealed to managers and employees and ended up fearing that they would settle permanently. Finally, the arrival of the Saas model and, at the same time, the willingness of companies to push for new uses pushed them to pay the utmost attention to the user experience because, with the subscription model that replaced the license/maintenance one, a software that was not adopted meant a customer who could abandon it overnight and stop paying for it.
In short, even if many things are still perfectible it is necessary to be in bad faith or not to have known the “before” not to recognize that things have greatly improved and we even have sometimes the surprise to realize that even “old” vendors offer things as much or even sometimes more attractive than startups for whom user experience is supposed to be a key aspect of their value proposition.
However, what employees continue to complain about is the complication of their information system.
The employee’s obstacle course in the information system
One of the things that irritate the employee is the dispersion of information. Sometimes he knows that information exists but does not know where: in the intranet, in one of the intranets, in the CRM, in a knowledge base, in a EDM, in a social network…. If he doesn’t have the time to search everywhere he will limit himself to one source or throw a message in a bottle to his colleagues, which is the most frequent but also the most time-consuming and useless case of collaboration. But there is a solution: a unified search engine that replicates the Google experience in the office.
One of the worst experiences is double entry. Having to enter information several times in different places or, to fill out a form or a customer file or a project management tool for example, having to go and find information existing in different systems and copy it into another.
If we designed e-commerce sites as internal tools, we wouldn’t sell anything.
And then there is the complication of the processes and of the user journey. 6 clicks for a leave request, 9 to submit an expense report…don’t you think that’s a bit too much? And I’m not talking about certain business tools that superimpose double data entry and complicated processes.
It’s pretty amazing. Every company knows that it loses its customer if he doesn’t find what he’s looking for at the third click…but as these are company tools, nobody cares, the employee is bound to go through the whole process even if he wastes his time. Except that nobody seems to realize that this is working time, paid by the company and that we are therefore paying people to waste their time! Multiply the time lost by the number of employees and then by the frequency of use and you will realize that the money saved by not modernizing or replacing this or that tool is in fact money lost.
If it helps you understand, tell yourself that if we designed e-commerce sites like we design some software for internal use, we would not sell anything online.
But how can this happen when there is no longer a software vendor who does not go through the user experience and design thinking stages to design the most fluid user journeys, even in B2B? It is done very well on the customer side, so why isn’t the same result achieved here, given that the same skills are mobilized?
The company is complicated, so its information system is complicated.
The answer is simple: the designer is constrained by the company’s processes. For the shopping journey he has his hands free on the customer side. Design drives the process. Internally, the process constrains or even drives the design. Not much to hope for then.
The company is complicated. Not by nature, but because of a lack of willingness to get to the bottom of things, to address the real issues and deal with them at a systemic level and not just locally. There’s no point in having designers working on tools and talking about design thinking at every meeting if you don’t start by designing organisations and processes in this way, as the software just transcribes the organisation.
Yesterday I called the customer service department of my telephone provider (who also provides me with the fiber). Great experience to fix me a problem with a broken TV set-top box. Then I talk about a mobile phone problem. “Ah I can’t help you, here we only deal with internet, you have to call the department in charge of mobile”. In fact in my online client interface I could do both operations in the same place because on the client side they built a unified experience. But the reality is that historically for them it’s two different lines of business with different systems. So on the employee side we only have a fragmented view of the customer. I would add that it took several years for the advisor in the store to have, like the customer in his online space, a unified view of the different accounts, whereas before he navigated between several systems that did not speak to each other. Obviously this convergence has not yet reached the support. People obviously continue to use different systems but some benefit from an interface that reconciles everything and others do not.
The employee makes up for the lack of communication between tools
In fact, what is a paradox in the age of the “Queen API” is that, contrary to the “general public” experience, the systems used in businesses still communicate little or not at all, especially when it comes to very specific applications…which are the ones most used by the employee in his work context. Employees’ time is used to compensate for the lack of connection or even interoperability between systems. A totally logical observation in 2010, but one that is beginning to be difficult to justify in 2020.
Yet, where some people see a complaining user, it is in fact a company that operates slower, less smoothly and does not make the most of the costs represented by its information system and its salaries. All of this generates dissatisfaction and frustration among the employee and very often leads to the customer in front of him or who in one way or another suffers from the slowness and errors that all this generates.