5 NOs to make PLM usable

November 20, 2012

User experience. You can hear this combination of words quite often these days. PLM space is not an exclusion from that. People in enterprise software, engineering and manufacturing are starting to ask more questions about usability. There are multiple reasons for that. Think about end users – engineers, project managers, etc. Consumer technologies makes a significant influence on their perception about how future software needs to look and feel. In their home life, they are exposed to so many technologies. Many of these technologies are more powerful and more usable compared to products, company IT provides them. BYOD is only one example of consumer technology impact. Speaking about companies (opposite to individuals), I can see also see a significant interest to usability and user experience. On recent PLM Innovation conference in Atlanta, many companies spoke about the importance of usability in the future of PLM products.

To deliver usability is a complex task. However, I decided to make an attempt to define "five NOs" you need think about to make PLM software usability. These NOs probably can be applied to other enterprise software too. However, I think, for PDM/PLM industry they make the most sense.

1. No memorizing things. We are overloaded with the information. In the past, our best user experience was "file explorer" or "project browser". Hierarchical view was the best UI pattern. It was everywhere, and PDM/PLM software actively mimicked that. Now, Google revolutionized this behavior. We don’t need to "browse for things", but we can "search for thing". It removes the need to memorize everything and make behavior much simpler.

2. No user interface inconsistencies. It takes long time to develop PDM/PLM products. Many companies also spent months and years to implement it and use it for production. As a result of that, we can see many inconsistencies in products and modules developed during different periods of time. By removing these inconsistencies, we can make experience much easier and pleasant.

3. No strange terminology. Enterprise software is well known for TLAs. It is everywhere. In addition to that, enterprise organizations are well know for creating lots of abbreviations and assumption about how to call different things – ECO, MBOM, EBOM, QBOM, SCM, CCB… this is a very short and incomplete list of terminology used by the software and companies. While software vendors cannot change the way a customer works, they clearly can make it easier and simple on their side. So, an attempt to eliminate abbreviation and inconsistent terminology can improve experience as well.

4. No gaps in user activity flow. User activity is important. Customer (especially when it comes to an individual worker) is very sensitive to the ability to get a job done. From that standpoint, what is needed is to make software to support process flow to go smooth. Don’t expect customer to be pleased with the need to jump over the screens, making strange manipulation with files (eg. copy, save, open) and assume end user will understand how to "make a sync" in order to transfer data between multiple systems. What the system needs to assume is that end user will forget, misunderstood and ask many questions if it will not go as he expects.

5. No duplication of office and other software and tools. PLM has love and hate relationships with office and email systems. The complimentary between these systems is obvious. PDM/PLM needs to rely on Office and email systems that have wide spread in organizations and huge mainstream adoption. So, integration with these tools is no-brainer decision for PDM/PLM functionality. At the same time, the same tools (Emails, Excel and content management systems) replaced PLM tools for collaboration and other forms of communication in the organization. I believe people are very comfortable with email and office systems. So, not to replace them can make user experience much better.

What is my conclusion? People are paying attention to user experience. Bad UI is not a joke anymore. When Boeing is paying attention on usability and SAP is investing into gamification of their software, PDM/PLM vendors need to think twice about their priorities. Just my opinion. YMMV.

Best, Oleg

image credit http://www.semantico.com/


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