Software-as-a-service (SaaS) systems deliver similar value to that of on-premises systems – albeit through the cloud.
Yet what’s the key difference?
Customers don’t need to actually own anything other than business data as well as the devices on which you’re going to use software products.
These products we can actually call digital products, which involve some influence from a hardware/software relationship. Yet because there is no limit to the ways in which you can build and program digital products, the range is immense, from the many poor ones to the few excellent ones.
Put another way, because digital products are relatively a new concept (and there is a lot of flux involved) there is a huge disparity between the good and the bad.
The user experience
Although it’s imprecise and all too often elusive, the influence of the user experience is pretty solid. When it comes to enterprise software, this includes the design and performance side of the system and how they are experienced by the user.
As such, SaaS designers rely on the capabilities of desktop and laptop computer hardware, the internet browsers, and operating systems.
Then you have the extra effort and work to deliver great mobile experiences but also on tablets, watches, and in cars.
The core focus of UX design is the design of how the product looks on the display screen as well as how users interact with it. Yet there is also a second level, which involve the data and content, i.e., the functionality.
There are many factors that go into the appearance and behavior of digital products.
There is an old desktop metaphor for the user interface, which is that just like we order paper into stacks, placing them nearer or farther depending on their priority, we should treat computer records and viewing windows in the same way.
Among those products that contrast sharply between functionality and content, consider two websites: the student-favorite Wikipedia and Encarta.
Wikipedia holds superior content as well as functionality despite (or due to) its simplistic appearance. Its open-source model which allows anyone to edit entries ensures that it provides users with such a deep source of information across many languages. Wikipedia highlights the victory of content and functionality over behavior and form.
Encarta had a richer dynamic rendition of knowledge and also printed encyclopedia volumes. Its appearance was slick and so was its behavior. Yet despite its elegant screen appearance, if a user finds it difficult to find a specific topic, that is Encarta providing a poor experience.
Put another way, a strong user experience design is as much about practicality as it is about cool interaction.
Meanwhile, to make EPM design difficult is the fact that each customer organization operates differently and so software should be tailored to each one’s needs.
With most digital products enabling a level of personalization, implementation of enterprise software varies a huge degree customer to customer, even when software is provided by the same tech vendor.
The challenge here then is for product designers is to design systems that are capable of adapting and customizing at a moment’s notice.
These EPM designers must make sure that each screen design is usable in a variety of configurations and usage scenarios – of which many are going to be close to impossible to predict.
Skepticism and practicality are strong ingredients for EPM designers when it comes to thinking about how their designs face up to potential usage adversity.
The real trick is to think about building EPM user experiences through the compromise of multiple customer needs and that balance that needs to be found, instead of looking at it as a vanity project or a fashion contest.