Or is it? It All Depends on Who You Ask.
For several years now I have been listening to enterprise application software vendors touting “beautiful software.” Yes, the whole customer experience and ease of use of software have become increasingly important, influenced in part by the consumerization of IT. However, I am of the firm belief that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and efficiency is far more important than “beauty.”
This belief has been backed up by data. For the last few years I have asked survey participants in my annual enterprise solution study to select their top three highest priorities for ease of use. The options I provide to them are shown in the chart below (Figure 1). A “visually appealing user interface” is my interpretation of “beautiful software” and has consistently ranked close to the bottom while indicators of efficiency (including time to complete tasks and intuitive navigation) were right up at the top. This year we saw beauty ranking a little higher, but it still comes out towards the bottom
Source: Mint Jutras 2014 and 2015 Enterprise Solution Studies
However, with all the talk about the influence of the Millenials in the workforce we decided it was time to get a better picture of this influence. So we captured participants’ age and grouped them accordingly as Baby Boomers (born between 1943 and 1964), Generation Xers (1965 to 1981) and Millenials (since 1982). All three categories had adequate representation for us to make some comparisons, with 61 Millenials, 162 Gen Xers and 108 Baby Boomers. And we found that these priorities depend a lot on who you ask (Figure 2).
Figure 2: Defining “Ease of Use” by Selecting “Top 3”
While minimizing time to complete tasks still takes the lead for all three generations, it does so with a much wider margin in the Baby Boomer generation. Two out three Baby Boomers selected this, compared to only one out of two Millennials. And look what came in second. A very close second for Baby Boomers was intuitive navigation, while beautiful software (a visually appealing user interface) was virtually tied for first in the youngest of the three generations. Yet only one in five Baby Boomers (and one in four Gen Xers) selected beautiful software as a ”top 3.”
Indeed, if you are an enterprise solution provider targeting Millenials, the visual appeal of the user interface is far more important than if your buyer is a Baby Boomer. The truth of the matter is that all groups are important, particularly in selecting software that essentially runs your business. While it is most likely that a Baby Boomer or a Gen Xer is signing off on the final decision, it is equally certain that Millenials will be part of the evaluation and selection process. And once selected and installed, representatives from all generations are certain to be using the software.
So what happens when software is hard to use? We asked survey participants this exact question, asking them to select one of four possible responses (Figure 3). While many associate the demand for a better user experience with the consumerization of IT and therefore attribute it to the younger generation, we actually find the Baby Boomer generation the least tolerant of software that is hard to use. And this from a generation accustomed to “hard.”
Figure 3: What best describes your response when software is hard to use?
Let’s face it. Early enterprise solutions, including ERP, were anything but user-friendly. They were hard to learn and hard to use. Because early ERP systems didn’t work exactly the way people worked, workers first had to learn how to do their jobs, and then separately had to learn how to enter data into ERP, and/or how to extract it. Depending on how closely (or not) these two were aligned, the same ERP that was supposed to make life easier, sometimes made it harder. While Baby Boomers might not claim to have walked five miles to school in two feet of snow (uphill both ways?), they were accustomed to “hard.” They didn’t revolt. They adapted, but often that meant working around the system instead of with it. And as you can see, they are still more than twice as likely as younger workers to do just that. Why? Because they can. They’ve been around long enough to know the business inside and out. They don’t need a software package to tell them what to do or guide them in how to do it.
On the other hand, the younger generation is much more dependent on technology and much more easily influenced by “beautiful software.” And they have the Baby Boomer generation to thank… or blame for that.
While Baby Boomers might have simply kept quiet and worked around these early systems, on a personal level they also wanted “better” and “easier” for the next generation. And they delivered that, providing all the “modern conveniences” to their children and grandchildren. And of course the electronics of today were a natural progression for these next generations. They took to Xbox and computer games like fish to water. And games led to computers and cell phones and then smart phones, and then tablets. Computers led them to the Internet. Smart phones and tablets led them to “apps.”
When the generation that grew up with consumer technology entered the “real world” and got jobs, they couldn’t understand why the “apps” they used at work weren’t as easy to use as the ones they were using on their smart phones and tablets. Unlike the older generation that knew the business and the business processes inside and out, and therefore knew how to operate outside of the system, the younger generation had become dependent upon technology.
While years ago only a select few employees within a company ever put their hands directly on solutions that run the business, those days are long gone. Today almost half of employees have some access to solutions like finance and accounting or ERP, beyond those self-service functions like benefits administration, paid time off and purchase requisitioning. And this percentage is growing. How easy the software is to use correlates strongly with how well it is used and the benefits derived. It behooves any company to make sure users can and do make the most and best use of the software. The onus is on the solution providers to make sure the applications are not only robust in terms of features, functions and technology, but also easy to use, including all the different aspects. And it’s a lot easier to like a pretty face.
We are continuing to collect more responses to the Mint Jutras 2015 Enterprise Solution Study so the survey is still open. If you are consumer of enterprise software and are interested in receiving a summary of all our results, please participate by taking the survey. Click here to take the survey. We will need your email address to send you a link to results, but rest assured we never share any contact info and responses are analyzed only in the aggregate.
If you an enterprise solution provider and are either interested in surveying your customers and/or getting more insights into the data we collect and our analysis, please contact Lisa Lincoln at firstname.lastname@example.org.