How to find sweet spot of future PLM UX improvements

November 24, 2014


The days of ugly UI are in the past. The trend that started from website design, mobile UI and intuitive consumer application is coming to enterprise software. Users of enterprise software are also consumers and it is hard for them to tolerate bad user experience of software they work every day. Remember my old post – PLM: Ugly vs. Cool? I can see cool UI is coming to engineering space too. My prediction – user friendly interfaces and better user experience will become one of the top 3 factors that will influence PLM in 2015. I can see this trend is coming from leading software providers. I put few examples in my blog few days ago – PDM/PLM UI Makeup: new trend in user experience.

So, cool is going to win. However, here is the thing. Cool is very expensive. To design new experience and to re-work existing applications will take time and money. It won’t happen overnight. So before you make your existing PDM/PLM nicer by developing new web tools or switching to new web technologies, I’d recommend to make some ROI calculation. It will help you to prioritize your work and make your customers happy. Actually the last one is even more important than the money you spend on rework. From my experience customers are getting REALLY angry when vendors are selling an old application with new UI (lipstick on a pig).

How can you decide about what part of your enterprise application to change. To set up priority and calculate ROI is very important. Software developers are very often missing this part of running full speed to change user interface and develop new apps with nice colors, but … performing exactly in the same way as the old one.

There are two things to remember when you think about new UI and new user experience – scale and impact. You need to maximize both and avoid making changes in the part of application that will be exposed to smaller number users or rarely in use. My attention caught by a very interesting article – UX for enterprise by Jordan Koschei. Have a read – here is my favorite passage:

The sheer scale of enterprise clients magnifies the effects of good and bad design alike. Small inefficiencies in large organizations result in extra costs that are passed on to the end user in time spent, money lost, and frustration increased. Likewise, when an enterprise prioritizes user experience for its internal tools, it becomes a more effective organization; a recently released business index shows that design-driven companies outperformed the S&P average by 228% over the last ten years.

It led me to another article that gives a perfect sense of how to approach ROI calculation for UX improvements – Calculating ROI on UX & Usability Projects. It brings list of approaches that can be used for calculation – increased sale, increased productivity, increased customer satisfaction and loyalty, decrease training and support cost and few others. From my perspective, very often, development are focusing on customer satisfaction and loyalty. But, this is something that enormously hard to measure. Opposite to that, think about productivity: Here is my favorite passage from the article about that:

For example, if you optimize the UX on a series of screens so that what was once a 5 minute task is now a 2.5 minute task, then you’ve increased a person’s productivity by 100%. That’s huge. HUGE. If the company has 100 phone agents who have an average salary of $40,000 + benefits (~$8,000) (+ an unknown amount for overhead), you could either release or retask those agents on other activities with a savings of $2,4000,000/year. (half of 100 agents x $48,000)

It made me think more specifically about PDM and PLM use cases. What are the most critical, time consuming and repeatable scenarios? If I think about PDM, everything I do with documents – check-in, check-out, release, view, search is extremely time sensitive. If check-in operation takes 50 minutes and fails at the end, users will be very angry. To improve check-in operation is a very complex task. But if you can save 30% of time, it can result in huge saving. Let me think about PLM use case – ECO management process.It can be really complicated, requires to open multiple screens, browsing for information, making requests. Improvements of this experience, can have a huge impact on productivity. I’m sure, you can come with more scenarios, but I guess you got my idea.


What is my conclusion? Customers are looking for nice UI. This is not “nice to have” feature for them anymore. However, it comes down to much more than nice layout and pretty colors. It comes down to “user experience” in the way that can make life of users easier, save time and get job done with less clicks. PDM/PLM vendors must think about it before embarking into next development project of changing colors and font size in their existing apps. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

photo credit: phishtitz via photopin cc

Will PLM experience move to a single-page UI?

December 3, 2012

The complexity of user interface in PLM applications is a well-known fact that acknowledged by almost all PLM vendors today. The demand of customers is to have modern and useful UI. It is popular to speak now about UI in a more expanded term – User Experience. Nowadays, modern consumer websites are used as an example of good user experience. Amazon, Facebook, Googe, Twitter, etc. – how to copy their experience to improve enterprise apps? When it comes to UI, one of the most critical questions is a complexity of UI navigation between different UI forms and pages. A possible pragmatic way to improve UI (and user experience) is to reduce the number of clicks and UI forms you need to use and open in order to accomplish the task.

I’ve been reading TechCrunch article – Enterprise Apps Are Moving To Single-Page Design. Navigate to the following link, have a read and make your opinion. Authors are talking with Zendesk – an software outfit building helpdesk application. The collaboration of people in helpdesk application is extremely important. So, UX is a critical element of how to make software successful and useful. Here is an interesting passage:

As a cloud help-desk software provider, we recognized that our customers’ needs were also changing. A few years ago, web support meant email. Today there’s chat and click-to-talk voice support, and most customers demand instant answers and help. These real-time channels benefit from a more modern application approach than our original HTML application afforded. From the support side, customer support agents might be chatting with one customer while simultaneously updating another customer’s files. Meanwhile, large support teams need to collaborate in real time. The platform can’t slow the pace of work.

To me, the interesting moment was the fact Zendesk mentioned the move from "email collaboration" to "online collaboration". This is where modern web-based user experience is coming to play. It required replacement of UI practice and new UI design. The idea of single-page UI seems to be interesting and becomes dominant in many apps. The fact page-reload is not required makes it simple for navigation and understanding. Here is another passage:

From a technical perspective, a single-page web application is delivered as one page to the browser and typically does not require the page to be reloaded as the user navigates to different parts of the application. This results in faster navigation, more efficient network transfers, and better overall performance for the end user.

Creating of new single-page apps requires some technical work and may lead to refactoring and re-architecture of application front-end layers.

What is my conclusion? The development of intuitive UI becomes one of the major trends in enterprise UI. The era of enterprise-UI-complexity is finally over. The modern UI and user experience techniques are coming in play. It will lead to major rewrite of UI level in many enterprise applications, introducing of new open APIs and reuse of open source infrastructure used in consumer and social web. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Why Cloud PLM will dominate in superior UI experience?

July 20, 2012

Let’s talk about User Interface today. Something that we call UX (User Experience) nowadays. The importance of user experience can be hardly undervalued. The days when a user interface wasn’t important gone, and customers are demanding from software vendors to provide a different level of product usability.

What is the path to a good UX?

Well. We agreed – user experience is a very important thing.Take a look on the picture below. I’m sure, many of you, reading now this blog post and watching this picture can go in your product development, PDM, PLM system and find some similarity with this UI.

However, how practically we can achieve these results? One of my favorite online publications, UX Magazine, published an interesting article – Overhauling a UI Without Upsetting Current Users. I recommend you to have a read. I found to the concept of “redesign by evidence” interesting and valuable. However, my favorite passage is related to “usability testing”:

Usability testing is very different from beta testing. In beta testing, users will typically only report usability problems that make it very difficult for them to accomplish a task—in other words, things that are very clearly bugs. They typically won’t report that they found something challenging or unintuitive. People don’t always like to admit that they failed at something. Also, beta testers (or at least the ones who take time to report issues) are often fans of the product, and are therefore also power users. They may have already learned to work around or ignore usability issues.

This is a key, and many PLM systems failed to accomplish that. To test systems with “mainstream users” and not only “product fans” is very important.

Cloud PLM and Usability Testing

In my view, cloud product architecture and development introduces new opportunity to develop a better user experience. Cloud is eliminating long development cycles and making software to be available on demand. It creates a possibility to experiment with individuals as well as user groups in a very granular form. It allows to achieve a next level of usability testing almost identical to the level consumer web brands have these days.

What is my conclusion? Cloud product development opens new horizons for PLM. Cloud product development and testing provide new platforms and capabilities for usability testing and variety of user experiments. As a result, PLM companies will have an opportunity to achieve an improved level of UI quality compatible with the quality of consumer and web products. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

PUI: Not PLM UI. Future User Experience.

June 22, 2010

I’d suggest to have some fun in the beginning. What is PUI? Do you think this is a new PLM UI? No, marketing didn’t get it yet… I hope, they will not do so. I’ve got this PUI TLA reading Enterprise Irregulars Blog – Three Types of GUIs: Past Present and Future. Thanks ArnoldIT blog for referencing me to this article. The author explains three different type of GUI – Task UI, Desktop UI and Process UI.  I found it very interesting. It made me think about the evolution of user experience in engineering applications and PLM.

TUI, DUI, PUI in Engineering applications
If you think about CAD applications, they look very task oriented. You have a 2D drawing (lately transformed into 3D model) and everything you do around this drawing or model, can be considered as tasks. You can create a new model or modify an existing one. Another big group of applications, CAE is also focusing on different tasks (i.e. calculations, etc.) around 2D/3D models.

The initial development of data management application created an idea of “Desktop”. In the beginning, data management was focused on “meta-data” management. Meta-data was considered as everything surrounding CAD files. The need to present data in various forms created lots of modifications of data forms. You can find it in most PDM/PLM applications during last 10-15 years.

Process was one of the top ideas that PLM focused on for the past 5-6 years. Organization can understand a “process language”. Software vendors in PLM space learned it from their big ERP brothers. I had chance to see lots of PUI modifications focusing on different processes.

PLM and PUI problem – Scalability
In my view, process orientation was a big excitement for PLM and other engineering software companies. It created a scalable model to grow the amount of applications, they can provide to companies. Since everything is a process, imaging how many process-oriented application you can create using this approach. Licensing wasn’t the last reason in this decision. Looks like PUIs were the way to go. PLM companies are tried to implement PUI approach. Take a look on the quote from Enterprise Irregulars Blog:

Now imagine business or enterprise apps that are process based, not single task items knit together by DIY process: An app that can pick up an idea, issue or request and run it through an unpredictable process that might look like a ball of yarn all the way to an implemented idea, a solved issue or a happy customer.

Where is the problem? In my view, the biggest problem is a scalability of this process. Every organization is different. Process oriented applications became very complex. This is what happens to PUI in PLM. Customers cannot implement an existing process oriented application. However, to tailor it will skyrocket cost of services.

Future User Experience
It is clear to everybody that the level of the complication kills. So, what will be the UI in the future? Many of companies are looking for the next big thing in UI. I can identify two main trends in PLM UI simplification – 1/ Embedding into the mainstream UI (i.e. Email, Excel, SharePoint, etc.), 2/Imitating successful applications in consumer space (i.e. Facebook). What will be the next big thing in UI? Do you think it will come from augmented reality? Games? Voice? I can see SIRI acquisition by Apple as the sign of possible direction in the future. I had chance to write about how I see the future user experience in my blog too.

What is my conclusion? User Interface is a hard problem in PLM apps. I think, we are in the mist of UI discussions. I can see many people are innovating in this space and trying to find a solution to this problem. We are in the beginning of mass migration of application from consumer space to the enterprise software. It will be very interesting to get back to this discussion in a couple of years.

Best, Oleg


PLM Usability Notes or Don’t Make Me Think

June 7, 2010

One of my favorite books about usability in designing of User Interfaces and Web Sites is “Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability” by Steve Krug. In my view, enterprises software is sick by complexity and you need to think every single moment you work with systems in the engineering and manufacturing domain. Despite the high demand from users, not much has been done to make systems simpler. There are few reasons for that – natural complexity of product development, bloody competition on features and creation of long history of training and services businesses.

I understand that enterprise software in general and specifically PLM software is different from web site design. Nevertheless, I’m getting back to this book on a regular basis.  Today I wanted to figure out few ideas, that in my view, can simplify PLM systems. This is not a recipe with step-by-step instructions how to do that, rather than a list of patterns that helps to create a simpler engineering and product data management with simplify DNA.

1. Contextual Identification
This is a very fundamental, in my view. Context is a very interesting aspect of work. Specifically, it is important when you think about what you can do. If you can clearly identify where are you, in terms of application module, data structure and step in the process, you can reduce time you spent in understanding what to do.

2. Simple Navigation
After applying contextual identification, you need to think how to move around. Navigation is set of rules that can help you to move between elements of your application. Think about navigation as about change of context. All possible ways to change your contextual states can be clearly presented. You need to understand how to move to another module and browse through data. Create helping elements in your software to help user to find where and how to move.

3. Action Driven Environment
In most of the cases, you start application to accomplish some tasks. Orientation on action needs to help you to identify what are possible actions you can accomplish in every contextually defined step. You need to limit actions and create a set of step with actions to guide users. User needs to find them in a very quick way. If you expect an “action” from users, make it clear and always allow one single step in a time.

4. Less Clicks
By a combination of context, navigation and actions you can create an easy to follow application flow. It will help to follow one more  principle – how to make fewer clicks to accomplish a task. Gather list of tasks and calculate the number of clicks you need to make them. Then try to reduce it at least by 50%. It will make your system much less complicated.

5. Less Options
You need to see only what you need to see. Think about how to eliminate everything – information you don’t need, commands that you’ll use rarely, visualization that can make user’s operation cumbersome. Many things in our UI can be easy eliminated.

What is my conclusion? Making things simple is hard. It is so easy to overwhelm users with the huge amount of features, options, complexity of forms, windows, rich content and information. However, if you will be able to clean up this mess, you can gain some respect from your users, in my view. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


The Future of PLM User Interface

March 8, 2010

Old, but very interesting blog post by Thomas Otter from Gartner made me think more about the future of PLM user interfaces. The perspective of multiple cockpits from early models of cars and late models of Boeing 747 was accomplished thoughts about the future trends and recommendation related to the enterprise UIs.

I think this post is still very relevant. I personally liked this one:

[…For those delivering enterprise apps, understanding and using the newer technologies is important. They have the potential to make the UI more compelling and more pleasant to use…]

I made quick search in the archive of PLM Think Tank. I found the old post with thoughts about user interface trends that seem to me going more towards “list” orientation. My examples of UIs coming from different places just confirmed, in my view, this trend. SharePoint, iPhone, Twitter, Facebook… This is the short list of apps that present clear flat strategy in UI building.

So, what I see as the future technological options for PLM User Interface? I’d like to outline few below and will be very interested to hear your opinion and thoughts on that.

1. Diversification. In my view, PLM will soon become more diversified. The “one size fits all” approach is going to end, in my view. Single UI Apps are going to die and will be replaced by multiple composite elements that can be arranged in different ways.

2. 3D. This is a continuation of what was done until now around CAD and 3D models. Things that are 3D today will be focusing on how to make downstream PLM apps more visual.

3. List Everything. It seems to me, list becomes the major user abstraction for everything. Used by multiple apps, list is so simple. You can contextually present any type of information.

4. Visualization. Picture worth thousand words. In many cases if you can visualize something by using charts, pipes, maps and many others, we are making our UI simpler. There is still lots of work to do to make it happen.

So, what do you think will happen in the next couple of years with regards to enterprise UIs and specifically to PLM? Will users convince vendors to diversify UI to make it simpler and social? I think, there is very good chance that those dreams will come true. UIs become hot. People are more and more concerned about user experience and PLM need to stay in focus to deliver the best in the class…

What are your thoughts on this?
Best, Oleg


Future PLM User Experience will be flat?

October 5, 2009

I’d like to discuss a user experience topic today. I think, this is a very painful question if we are talking about Enterprise Systems. PLM is not exception and suffering from complicated and not always appropriated user interfaces. I think, indeed, PLM has some advantages on the side of 3D, but in my view, there is a significant portion of non-3D life in PLM too. So, I’d like to pick up “List User Experience” trend. On the positive side, I see power of List in his simplicity. Everything can be represented by the list (except of 3D of course:) ). There are few powerful developments of a list-oriented user interfaces, I want to mention.

Microsoft SharePoint
SharePoint is using a list as a fundamental user interface experience. Everything is represented as a list and everything is transferred to become a list. You can see more details about SharePoint user experience in my previous posts about that – PLM Collaboration, To Catch Wave of Share List?

Micro-bloging and social networks
This is all about Facebook, Twitter, Yammer and other micro-bloging and other similar products.I can see a definite trend in standardizing on list base user interface. Facebook user interface becomes a more “list” compared to what we had before. Products list TweetDeck, Seesmic Desktop and other are all lists-based.

Picture 18

Mobile User Experience
There is not much to say about the iPhone User Interface. Everything is list-based. Lots of other products simulate iPhone user experience to get higher customer adoption rate.

Picture 17

Future Twitter Lists.
Some very interesting future development expected from Twitter. Twitter Lists. This new product from Twitter looks like next level of maturity to experiment with what List abstraction can deliver.

So, what is going in Product Lifecycle Management? Everything is pretty structured and not flat today. May this is our chance to change it? I’m looking forward to your comments.

Best, Oleg


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