The Humane Enterprise
There is a comprehensive simplicity that is lacking at the core of most enterprise software. Interaction designers can help.
Enterprise software currently presents a humanitarian crisis of sorts. While this may sound glib, consider that the global Enterprise "experience" accounts for some millions of hours in lost productivity, miscommunication and general, organizational disaffection. This talk is about a comprehensive simplicity that is lacking at the core of most enterprise software. Why is this so? And what can be done about it? Obscurity and inconsistency reign where transparency and interoperability ought to go hand in hand. The egregious result is that the everyday tools, the interfaces that we must interact with daily in our jobs—from banker to lawyer, from journalist to physician—are almost incapable of leveraging the considerable network of information that many of us need to wade through at work.
Working with several client companies over the last five years has yielded a bounty of insight around not just the drivers of poor IT UX but also some striking similarities in the interaction and visual design strategies needed to counteract, heal and indeed drive future innovation across these systems and the workers inhabiting them. And it's not just workers in the Enterprise who are affected: the billions of potential customers consuming services and other data emanating from these organizations feel the distinct pain of confusing reportage, ambivalent corporate tools and access and overall poor brand relationships, every day.
The productivity of the Enterprise and the consumer services we take for granted are inextricably linked. How can the design of interactions across these experiences be more seamlessly supportive? New approaches to Enterprise software interaction design continue to be needful and indeed some new memes are surfacing around more direct access to data and content-as-interface. However, just as you can’t pull the airplane out of the sky and replace it with an entirely new flying machine, new-gen functionality - and even new paradigms - are currently bolted on to old. Bridges in knowledge and practice, often stop-gap at best, are built from generation to generation in this way.
The rise of Bring Your Own Device situations in the workplace are actually leapfrogging some enterprise tools because workers, unsurprisingly, prefer their own, easy to use toolkits: and employees are voting with their feet. And that may be a very telling trend that bespeaks of an ongoing decentralization: our mobile technology experiences are conditioning us to personal data-accountability. But still we need the Enterprise: it’s managing that accountability at the scale of millions of individuals that presents a significant challenge. And an added twist: increasingly, the electricity that powers the data is regulated by that very same data. Once this condition is the norm, we will have backed ourselves fully into a very tricky feedback loop in which there is no room for failure-prone system interactions. The enterprise software ecology will have become vital not just to the business of business, but to the critical-path of the human enterprise as well.
What new capabilities and service offerings might become possible if we can imbue the foundation—enterprise software and hardware—with human- machine elegance? Can we reconcile deep computing structures and practices with the more “nodal,” or highly mobile and personal sensibility that defines contemporary, daily computation? Interaction and experience designers can to transform human-computer interaction within the enterprise services layer to accomplish this.
About Scott: In the last decade, my work has been primarily in the digital domain with frequent, convergent cross-over into physical material and forms. Spanning the PC and mobile web, entertainment ecosystems, enterprise controls and commercial environments, this hybrid space between digital and physical is a cornerstone of my burgeoning interests in smart infrastructures, the future of the built urban environment and human productivity.