Here's the good news first. Practically all of the app development best practices that apply to consumer app UX (user experience) also apply to enterprise UX. However, you may need to review the difference between UX and UI because the concepts are the same for enterprise app users. You should also know within the app creation process, everyone is responsible – from the business owner to the developer – for the user’s experience even though UX designers are an essential part of the development team.
Here are five key things to consider that you may not have thought about yet.
In the old world, everything was function-centered: Did the software perform according to specifications? If so, then mission accomplished. The perfect example is mainframe computers with a command line entry interface. They functioned perfectly as long as the user knew the exact command line instructions and didn't make any mistakes. The experience for the average worker was about as bad as you could get, and they stayed far away from IT until something stopped working.
It took consumer-driven market pressure from popular apps like Dropbox to make enterprise mobile apps get serious about prioritizing interface design. Today, enterprise mobile apps must start from the understanding that they have to fit into a larger IT infrastructure with many existing legacy systems.
Often the practical limits of this legacy infrastructure translate into an outdated UI. It's common to see an interface that’s 10 years old or more, but the variation among industries is huge. Conduct research on the most common IT infrastructure patterns for your app's preferred destination. Take into consideration that the larger the implementation, the higher the barriers for companies with customized legacy systems to implement structural or design changes.
For the UX practitioner, building on existing legacy systems gives your app a known starting point. In the end, it works out to your benefit that there are substantial barriers to pushing through changes on these massive systems. It's partly a coding problem and partly a problem of users getting upset about feeling like they have to learn the system all over again.
The important point here is that figuring out back-end integration with key enterprise systems is essential, and it has to come early in the development. Take the time to investigate how queries and data feeds go back and forth in and out of the legacy systems will interact with your app. Focus on making the new app work seamlessly with these systems for the user. This is one area where the interface functionality has to be given equal or greater weight than the visual aesthetics of the UI. Make sure the app creates or displays accurate and reliable information, protects the security of company data, and minimizes the hassles of authentication.
Build small, quickly, and get testing with the actual users of the app. At RevUnit, we believe in the mantra Build Small. Learn Fast. Iterate Often. You will make better use of your resources starting from an enterprise pain point and getting user feedback early on. The earlier the ideal user gets involved in this process, the less you will have invested in what you imagine they want. Listen to their feedback and address their concerns and issues. Explore ways to offer the user value that they don't expect. Think about what it means to involve the user at the level of a co-creator in workflows, defining the scope and maybe even choosing the development platform. At these early stages, the voice of the user should be a part of your strategies from the beginning. Build fast, get feedback and make it indispensable.
The moment the user's mindset shifts from play to work, you are dealing with a new user. There are actually many ways that the enterprise user is different, even if you are dealing with the same person using the same device.
The biggest difference is time. Consumer apps can be launched, closed, and relaunched whenever there is downtime. Crashes and time lags can hurt your reputation and user counts, but can be quickly fixed with an update and even compensated with in-app rewards. Enterprise apps have to work flawlessly all the time, on- or perhaps even off-line depending on organizational requirements, because time is money. Response time variation of microseconds can be a deal breaker, and server hacks or weak security can expose you to serious legal liability.
The one way the enterprise user is the same as the consumer is the expectation for ease of use. What used to be acceptably difficult has been redefined by consumer productivity apps brought to the office as shadow IT. The good part about this for the UX practitioner is that it opens up many new modern design patterns to make your users quickly understand how to use the new app.
If you are going to be developing the enterprise app in native iOS or Android, you can make extensive use of device and platform-specific features. If you are going with HTML5 or a hybrid development platform, you can go deeper than ever before with GPS, mapping, sensors, etc. Be sure to keep in mind the security demands of the app and adapt functionality to the user's defined roles/permissions. The paradox is that the easier or more fun it is for the user to get things done, the greater their productivity will be when using the app.
Embrace the new tech paradigm. Everything is out of date the moment it hits the market. Users of modern apps now expect constant updates to add new functionality, improve workflows, and fix bugs. They also expect to be able to leave feedback when things do not work or when a change is needed and that the issues will be addressed quickly.
Your ROI calculations probably already consider time-to-market opportunity costs, the hit to productivity in proficiency ramp up, and implementation costs. What you can't forget is your costs for regular updates to incorporate new technology, bug fixes, or user requested changes. Get ahead of the future and get ready to adjust your user’s experience on an ongoing basis.