Who will make enterprise PLM UX more user friendly?

December 23, 2013


For long time, enterprise software didn’t pay much attention to user-friendliness. I can go and bring many examples from the past 10-20 years, but assume it is probably not necessarily. Consumerization of IT, mobile devices, internet made a shift in the way people started to think about future of user interaction, user experience and application design. Interaction with user before design phase, multiple user tests, re-design sessions – this is a normal way to design for a good interaction. You need to test your application with exact behavior of your users. I found the best example of what does it mean reading TechCrunch article on my way back to Boston few days ago – Cognitive Overhead. Interesting reading. The author is a founder of well-known app – Bump. The most amazing example for me was the fact they tested Bump on drunk people in San Fran and Palo Alto pubs. Here is the passage:

The very young and the very old are even more sensitive to cognitive overhead, as their brains aren’t accustomed to the sort of logical leaps our products sometimes require. Grandparents and children make great cognitive overhead detectors. When you can’t find old or young people, drunk people are a good approximation. In fact, while building Bump 3.0, we took teams of designers and engineers to bars in San Francisco and Palo Alto and watched people use Bump, tweaking the product to accommodate.

Enterprise software vendors these days are also thinking about the future of user friendly design and how it will impact enterprise apps. Information week article Infor bets on user friendly design to disrupt enterprise applications market speaks exactly about that:

Typically, people who decide on buying the enterprise application seldom use it. That’s why most people hate using enterprise applications. We want to get people using and accessing applications quickly, and that calls for a great user design. Social has huge relevance in this context. For example, a product called Infor Ming.le, allows employees to communicate, collaborate, and share information such as documents, plans, photos, and videos from a centralized location, with all activity captured and easily searchable.

It made me think about the problem of enterprise UX thinking and… learning. You need to learn from other people, learn trends, interact with other people working on user experience. So, what is the future of education in design and user experience? When I was looking for the answer, another article caught my attention related to the future of UX – The Top UX prediction for 2014. Interesting enough I found some answers on the future of UX design training and education. Here is my favorite passage:

Meanwhile, product design is now commonly recognized as a strategic advantage, its business impact made obvious to even the most skeptical of analysts by the success of Apple. Ironically, as companies have become more design savvy, some designers have felt marginalized when early stage, strategic product design decisions fall to business executives and product management. We are going to see more and more colleges recognizing the importance of customer service and experience in academia. A business degree, even a masters or PhD, with a specialty in customer experience design will become a new offering.

What is my conclusion? Application design is getting wide recognition among companies in all domains – consumer, enterprise, education, training. I can predict lack of educated people that can do it professionally as well as high interest in training sources focuses on product design. It will be specifically hard in such complicated domains as enterprise applications and PLM. So, who is going to be the next "Jony Ive of enterprise"? This is a good question to ask. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

About PLM Islands and Russian Search

June 11, 2013

Recently, I’ve been talking a lot of search paradigm and findability in PLM. In many aspects, web search changed our life. Search remains one of the fundamental user experience in consumer space and web. We search for tasks, locations, emails, friends, events and many other things. Search is different when we speak about business. Enterprise search as a software that helps to search information inside applications data sources inside a company is around many years. However it is a different type of solution even today. In PLM domain, we can different patterns of search development by vendors. I described some of them here – Multiple Facets of PLM search.

One of the most interesting patterns related to search are actually starts after you find a desired sources of information. One of the trends here is to simplify user experience and make search rich and actionable. You probably familiar with Google Rich Snippet functionality. It presents a combined set of information about the result and some actions (sometimes buttons and sometimes other user interface elements) that can lead you to a target web site or specific activities. However, Google is not alone in their strategy to make information access easier and actionable.

Here is another example of actionable search user experience. It called Islands and it presented by Russian search company – Yandex. Navigate your browser to the following article – Think Google’s rich snippets are useful? Russia’s Yandex goes one better. The following passage explains how Yandex islands functionality works:

Let’s say the user searches for “Moscow Berlin air tickets.” A normal search result will link to an airline’s website. A rich snippet will also present direct links to the airline’s booking or special offers pages, perhaps along with the airline’s telephone booking number and its opening times. An island, or interactive snippet, could present a form through which the user can check into their flight online or begin the booking process based on real-time data – right from within Yandex’s search results.

Yandex Islands and Google Rich snippets made me think about some user experience transformations in PLM user experience. Think about transforming results into actionable information. Couple of examples. Working with document reviews scenario. You search for documents and have the ability to access multiple viewable including sharing and review actions. Another one is more related to structured processes like engineering change order (ECO). This scenario can start from ECO search. When you found a specific ECO, can get an access to important ECO details (description, dependencies) as well as make action (review, approve, etc.). I’m sure can come with more examples how to turn regular PLM scenarios easier with the use of rich search user interface.

What is my conclusion? User experience excellence. This is what matters these days. It is about how to innovate by focusing on small details of interaction between users and software. It is about how to optimize information and action flow. To eliminate additional clicks, switches between screens and bring some consumer practice to enterprise systems like PLM is the goal. It can be an interesting step towards future PLM excellence. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Social PLM: From File Explorer to Activity Streams

March 20, 2013

Social hype is getting down. I can say it about PLM industry too. We can see less “social startups” and less marketing hype about how next big social revolution will come and solve all existing problems in PLM technologies and systems. If you want to catch up with my previous thoughts about social PLM, I recommend you to read – How to prevent social PLM from marketing fluff? and Why Social PLM 1.0 Failed? My conclusion about the failure of Social PLM focused on the fact “social PLMs” missed the value of customer function and instead of that, focused on value proposition only. As a result of that, they missed usage and customer adoption – two factors that absolutely important to make a shift in PLM systems.

It is interesting to see how social systems are expanding their influence in other enterprise systems like CRM and ERP. One of them is Chatter for Salesforce.com. I’ve been reading TechCrunch article about Chatter update for mobile yesterday. Navigate to the following link to read it – The New Salesforce.com CRM Platform Is Chatter And It’s Made For Mobile. What was interesting is how Chatter is proliferating to become a universal way to get information out of CRM system and communicate with other people. It made me think about social system and shifting paradigm from File Explorer way to Social way. Here is an interesting passage I captured:

Chatter, the company’s activity stream service that it launched in 2010, now has the capability for a customer to access records, edit them and take action on an account, all from a mobile device. It essentially brings CRM to the customer’s mobile phone, iPad or tablet. The updated app is now available in the Apple App Store and Google Play. The app is a significant improvement over the Salesforce.com mobile app, and has one feature that is particularly noteworthy. Chatter Publisher overlays the Chatter activity stream. Its look is reminiscent of the tiles feature on Windows Mobile Phone and the overall Windows UI.

File Exporer Paradigm

For a long time, File Explorer was a main user experience paradigm we had on the computer. File explorer was with us from early days of Windows. File explorer (folder) paradigm expanded with the tools like Outlook and becomes even wider discovery paradigm for information – folders / hierarchical discovery.

File explorer paradigm expanded even into first versions of mobile devices. On the following picture you can see an early version of mobile device UI also presenting sort of file explorer.

PDM/PLM systems are inherited File Explorer paradigm in many ways. Most of successful PDM projects inherited File Explorer user experience because it was familiar and usable. Even today, many PLM UIs looks like File Explorer.

Social Paradigm

Social paradigm roots are taking us to early days of social networks. It started as a communication tools only (messaging, chatting) and expanded as a tools to share content among group of people (Twitter, Facebook, Google+). The function of content share became even more important when mobile came to place. The ability to embed content such as video, photos in communication expanded the reach and value of these tools. The information delivery model shifted from “folder, file and share” to “activity stream with embedded content” coming from social peers.

Enterprise vendors took the activity stream paradigm beyond the point of photo/video sharing. Social applications like Chatter and others are helping you to share information content coming from files and other enterprise application in the way similar to Facebook and Google+ are sharing photos and videos. The last Chatter update just proved it again.

What is my conclusion? Shifting paradigms. In my view, we see it just in front of our eyes. What was obvious and straightforward experience for PDM/PLM systems for the last decade will become a nonsense for the generation of 2010s customers. People want their working environment to have the same experience as games, internet and mobile devices today. I can see “activity streams” paradigm as an an interesting experience that will displace current enterprise systems UI in many places. I don’t expect enterprise systems to be like Facebook. However, I think social applications will play a significant role in the future of user experience. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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

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/

Mobile PLM Development Challenges and User Experience

September 21, 2012

The topic of mobile applications drives more and more attention every day. This is true not only for consumer website and applications, but also for enterprise software vendors. Enterprise companies are playing the catch up with mobile product development. It is true for almost all segments of enterprise software – ERP, CRM, PLM and others. One of the latest splashes in this place was Salesforce.com announcement of their Salesforce Touchplatform. For those of your interested in additional development around mobile, I recommend you to get a mobile development guide from Salesforce touch here.

The discussion about how to develop mobile applications is trending. One of the most popular topics is Native Apps vs. Mobile Optimized web sites. Earlier this year, I raised this topic in one of my blog posts. It shows some interest in mobile optimized websites. However, I think it is a good time now to get back to this topic again. If you follow Facebook, you probably had a chance to see the whole discussion about Facebook mobile app. Bad user experience of Facebook mobile became one of the clear showstoppers for Facebook future success. Forbes’s article Facebook’s HTML5 dilemma, explained put some lights on the core problem behind Facebook mobile. Read it and make your opinion. I found the following passage important:

Take hardware. Using a Dell or a Mac, you still interact with web applications in basically the same way, with a mouse or trackpad and a keyboard. Hardware variation rarely impacts basic web-browsing functionality. Now consider the differences between a Blackberry and an iPhone. Or a Samsung and a Nokia. Different screen sizes, different levels of computing power, different pixel densities, different operating systems, and very different means of interacting with each device. EachScape CEO Ludo Collin, whose company has developed mobile applications for clients like NBC and Discovery Networks, says that developing for HTML5 is “ten times more complicated than iOS” since developers need to account for such a mind-numbing degree of variation.

The situation among PLM developers is not different much. I know PLM vendors working on the HTML compliant approach (Arena, Autodesk PLM360, Kenesto, Vuuch). At the same time, I can see vendors developed applications for mobile platforms (TeamCenter, Windchill, SolidWorks, Autodesk, Inforbix, MobilePDM). Native platforms introduce challenges to development teams. However, I can see advantages of native-apps related to usability and speed. No surprise, most of the "native apps" debates are around iOS platform. The latest iPhone5 release is going to introduce another challenge by adding new screen resolution to the game. Until now, different screen resolutions were a "privilege" of Android platform only.

What is my conclusion? The demand for intuitiveness and user experience is very high. Enterprise IT and software vendors are clearly on fire to provide a new generation of solutions to match consumer applications and mobile development trends. In parallel, browser platforms introduce many additional challenges to the development of web platforms. To develop dedicated mobile apps can be a reasonable compromise. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What comes after PLM?

September 18, 2012

One of the questions, that was very popular in my childhood was about "life on Mars". Nowadays, thanks for NASA and Curiosity, this question became practically obsolete. Let me speak now about PLM. What if all questions about what is PLM, how companies can implement PLM and many others disappeared. Hard to believe, but let’s dream about it this situation :). Obviously, my next question is the following – "what comes after PLM?". You may think people are not asking this question. Actually, they do and I found few interesting opinions about what comes "after PLM".

Dassault and 3D Experience

According to Dassault System CEO and President, Bernard Charles, sees 3D experience as the next horizon that comes after PLM. Navigate to the following link to read “3D Experience is the next horizon after PLM”. Dassault is thinking about cloud computing, social networking, virtual reality and search-based analytics as a foundation of life after PLM. I found the following passage very interesting:

An iPhone is a winner because it provides a great experience that’s about more than a product. It’s about how you take advantage of any physical good and its contribution to how you run your business or conduct your life. 3D Experience is about doing that. It’s the next horizon after PLM. The fundamental value is about how we can offer our customers the ability to put the consumer or their customers at the center of the product creation pipeline in a holistic sense including design, engineering, simulation and production.

Interesting enough is how Charles defines the combination of social tools with a significant focus on cloud and user experience.

Supply Chain Execution

Another example is coming actually from a complete different space. NGC groups publish the report – Report from NGC:After PLM, What Comes Next? Perfecting Supply Chain Execution. Navigate to the following link to get a copy of the report (note – registration is required). The report includes case studies on VF Corp. and Landau Uniform; analyst insight from WhichPLM‘s Mark Harrop and Leslie Hand, Research Director, IDC Retail Insights; and a Q&A with Mark Burstein, president of sales, marketing and R&D, NGC Software. The main point of the report is that efficient SCM (Supply Chain Management system) provides the most logical step after PLM implementation. Here is my favorite passage:

PLM is a very important enterprise system, but its main focus is on product line planning and the subsequent development of the line until it is adopted. Global sourcing/SCM tools track and manage the movement of the physical product until it is delivered. SCM begins with distribution of the initial purchase order to the selected vendor, and then continues with tracking materials procurement, production work- in-process, quality audits and shipment logistics until the finished goods are received at the final destination.

What is my conclusion? PLM doesn’t live in isolation. PLM becoms more visible and important in organizations these days. There is a simple reason for that. PLM serves as a core system helping engineers and everybody in the coming to run product development processes. Vertical integration is important, therefore, connecting and expanding PLM system towards the supply chain is a possible strategic direction. Supply chain might have different priorities depending on the company and type of operation. Speaking about user experience, I believe it becomes more important these days, since the demand of people is driven by consumer websites and mobile applications. Just my thoughts. What is your take?

Best, Oleg


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