Designing for Enterprise Class Apps

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The primary goal for enterprise products is to enable users to get their jobs done efficiently and effectively. If the product doesn’t accomplish this, then it doesn’t matter how cool and sexy it looks. Designing successful enterprise apps involves a deep understanding of the problem space and consideration of all players involved. Here are some of the ways Level 11 approaches enterprise app design:

  • Considering physical environments
  • Leveraging SMEs
  • Incorporating user feedback
  • Identifying friction points
  • Designing for system failures
 
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Physical environments matter

Understanding where and how your product is going to be used is key to its favorable adoption by users. Early observations and usability testing in the field will uncover unexpected and surprising insights that dramatically impact design.

For one project, initial discussions and user journeys around the process of checking guests into a space had everything taking place in an interior location. However, early usability testing in the field ascertained that these operations were often set up outdoors or even a few miles away from the site due to security restrictions or site logistics.

In the outdoor environment, users had to contend with bright sunlight and glare on the screens and often wore sunglasses to compensate; resulting in reduced visual perception. Relying on the company’s brand guidelines (developed for print and desktop applications) for the visual design, resulted in an app that wasn’t usable in outdoor scenarios. As a result, we designed a high contrast version with the option to toggle between versions as staff members changed locations from indoors to outdoors.

Another project involved the creation of a dashboard to monitor the status of emergency drills (and an actual emergency if one occurred). When picturing the environment for using a dashboard, a quiet office setting typically comes to mind; however, this reality was closer to a 911 dispatch center. Here the staff was simultaneously bombarded by ringing phones, verbal updates from the field, and people hurrying in and out of the command center—all while they were trying to evaluate and resolve the emergency situation.

Creating a dashboard that is an effective tool for these users means first understanding what information is most valuable in decision-making during emergencies, and then prioritizing it against the stages of an emergency. Making this information effortless to parse at a glance, simple to comprehend, and swiftly actionable contributed to the dashboard’s success.

 
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Subject matter experts bring the knowledge

Engaging subject matter experts in the design process can be tricky. These experts have extensive job and process-specific knowledge that makes them invaluable in helping us understand gaps and deficiencies in the current solution. However, they can be unconsciously wedded to the way things are done, including the manual work-arounds and training procedures that they are accustomed to. An outsider’s perspective can be useful in harvesting insider knowledge without being locked into a preconceived solution.

User feedback guides decisions

Staff training sessions and in-the-field user testing are great forums for gathering direct feedback from users. These events provide insights on real-world usage and the opportunity to hone the design. Based on the feedback from these types of forums, we usually make changes along these three dimensions:

  1. Visual – using color changes in UI elements to provide feedback on the success or failure of actions;
  2. Auditory – adding sounds as a secondary indication of the action taken. This can include sounds for a successful transaction, error sounds, and sounds to highlight when an atypical transaction has occurred;
  3. Contextual – creating context-specific messaging in warnings and error messages to interrupt and catch the user’s attention before proceeding with an action they might regret.

Friction points disappear

Enterprise apps don’t exist in isolation; they exist within an ecosystem of devices and software intertwined with operational processes and tribal knowledge that teams have developed over years. Tiny pain points and crazy work-arounds involving staff writing notes on their hands are often overlooked in any discussions around the user journey.

Observing staff training sessions or staff in action (especially when everything isn’t running smoothly) provides tremendous insight into where there are operational challenges in current processes. These observations often form the basis for proposing changes in an overall workflow that results in higher customer satisfaction while simplifying tasks for the staff.

An app that tells your hotel concierge staff a guest’s interests to make suggestions more relevant and interesting activities is only useful if there is a mechanism to capture guest preferences and interests.

System failures become manageable

Network outages and system failures are a fact of life. Designing for how will staff continue to do their job when the network is offline or if there’s an outage in the data centers is essential.

Some of this design is in the technical architecture of the solution. However, a deep understanding of what is critical to task completion and the ramifications if a task cannot be completed is essential to designing the appropriate level of offline capabilities, including any changes to operational procedures.

On one project the client required a complete accounting for all people in the building in the event of an emergency situation. As part of their “offline” solution, we designed the app so that data could be synced directly with a “master” device to create a single report of who was in the building and their last known location. Once the system was back online, the data automatically synced to the server without requiring any additional steps from the staff.

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Summary

Designing successful enterprise apps involves a deep understanding of the problem space and consideration of all players involved. Enabling staff to get their jobs done efficiently and effectively frees up time to spend on high-value tasks or interacting with guests. Creating graceful fallbacks when there are system issues or network outages ensures staff are able to continue to do their jobs which has ripple effects on both the guest experience and staff satisfaction.


Do you have a vision that radically changes how customers engage with your company but are struggling with how to deliver it? Can you imagine transforming your tried and true emergency operating procedures involving grease boards, clips boards, human runners and walkie-talkie communications into the digital age by taking advantage of real-time information and location awareness data?

Reach out for one of our solutions workshops. Level 11 has helped companies like Disney, Starbucks, and Carnival Corporation achieve critical transformations in their customer experience.

 

 
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About Author

Alexandra is a Senior Product Designer at Level 11 responsible for product design and the customer experience for multiple clients. She is a passionate believer that all products, even those for enterprise users, can be desirable as well as useful. With a wealth of experience, she understands the growing pains of transformational change. Alexandra is always excited to explore new challenges when designing (or redesigning) the digital experience.