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UX development becomes a critical priority in 2016

As a rapidly growing number of users demand access to enterprise apps, developers must think even harder about how they approach UI and UX. George Lawton explains what this means.

The move towards transactions conducted via the Web, mobile and new IoT devices means enterprise architects need...

to consider the user experience on these channels as forethought. Here we explore what these trends mean for enterprise architects in 2016.

User experience (UX) and user interface (UI) development are shaping up to be important elements in the adoption of enterprise applications. In the consumer space as well as the enterprise space, powerful and seamless user experience is what differentiates products and the organizations that produce them. 

"Reminding organization leaders of a design-first philosophy where decisions related to the UX of the software [are] as important as any other technology decisions made by the organization," Seth Ford, director of UX at Illumino, said. "The buyer and the user are not the same person, and really making an effort to understand who among our customers are using the product and helping them have an exemplary user experience is a big challenge."  

Consumer mobile apps and websites are driving ever-higher expectations for app polish and ease of use. UX development will require much greater emphasis on design, user interaction and testing.

"Developing these apps requires more iterations through Agile development with frequent releases," Bill Appleton, President at DreamFactory Software, said. "For enterprise architects, it puts more pressure on providing a mobile-optimized back end that supports rapid app development that can leverage a growing variety of back-end data sources."

New interfaces present opportunities and challenges

A wide variety of new interfaces are springing up that promise to allow consumers and workers to interact using gestures, full movement or their voices. As a result, enterprise architects need to think about how to create an application infrastructure that supports UX development in order to reach new audiences and improve the user experience. Technologies like Microsoft Kinect and Intel RealSense cameras allow people to interact with their PC, smartphone or TV with full body movement.

"Gaming and video conferencing are the low-hanging early opportunities," Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group, said. He believes the Microsoft HoloLens, which blends voice and gestures, is the most interesting trend in 2016, as it anticipates what may be the next big personal computer step where physical smartphones, tablets, PCs and TVs no longer matter. But making the transition easy could be a challenge.

"Once we learn how to do something we are extremely resistant to changing to something better," Enderle said.

Design languages promise to simplify UI and UX development

This trend toward newer interface modalities is also being driven into the Internet of Things (IoT) with the rise of transparent experience platforms from vendors like Google, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon. These experiences are driven by IoT and voice technology, providing use cases like the Amazon Dash, Google Now, Siri, Cortana and Amazon Echo. 

"As 2015 closes, we're seeing consumer providers like Netflix and Twitter integrate into those platforms, a trend we expect to see continue in 2016 and start to affect the enterprise landscape, providing better search aggregation and simple command actualization without the need for a direct user interface," Ross Elliott, executive vice president at HighJump Software, said.

The UX is fundamental -- and starts at the design of capabilities.
Dror Granotvice president of engineering at Reduxio

But these new platforms are in their early phases and there is little consistency in devices and support for common technology stacks. Elliot said that Windows 10 has helped provide some consistency across tablets, phones and consoles. But the wide variety and disparity of the Android platform complicates a UI developer's ability to deliver rich models across the breadth of the device market.

Software UX in the enterprise can be greatly improved by adopting a design language. More and more businesses adopt design languages developed by platform vendors, such as Google Material Design, Microsoft Metro and SAP Fiori UX.

"2016 will give us a fresh wave of vendor-neutral UX frameworks and design languages," Marcin Warpechowski, lead developer at Starcounter, said. "There is a huge void to fill here."

Ease of use and simplicity as a practice

Dror Granot, vice president of engineering at Reduxio, said the top two challenges facing UI developers in 2016 are ease of use and simplicity.

"It is one thing to say that you enable this, but actually doing it correctly is another," Granot said. "Ease of use means that you do not need multiple resources to learn how to use the UI."

The average user that works with apps all day does not need help to configure and play with the app; it is intuitive enough for them to just start working. Enterprise customers will start to expect this from every application they use, no matter how complicated it can be. This challenge involves a lot of cooperation between both the UI and back-end developers to hide all the complexity from the user.

Granot warned that it is also important to realize that UI and UX development are a manifestation of the intended UX.

"In many cases, vendors tend to focus solely on the UI and design and forget about the UX," Granot said. "The UX is fundamental -- and starts at the design of capabilities."

New metrics to calibrate UI and UX development

UI and UX development also need to take into consideration how design elements impact the UX. In many cases, flashy application designs can bring the application to a crawl. This can be a bigger problem on slower devices and networks. It's not enough for UI developers to just test the applications in the lab and hope for the best.

To address this issue, UI and UX development will need to incorporate real user experience monitoring as part of the software development lifecycle.

"Leading brands will finally quantify user experience by measuring, not sampling, real user interactions with their websites and mobile applications," Ann Sung Ruckstuhl, CMO of SOASTA, said. According to her, brands will be able to detect bad user experiences happening in real time, making it possible to remediate, test and verify fixes to minimize impact on customer satisfaction and revenue.

Tammy Everts, director of content at SOASTA, said that user timing will be another important metric for quantifying UX in 2016. She expects an explosion in single page applications since UX developers are starting to master the tricky job of measuring real user experience for them.

New metrics such as Net Promoter Scores give service providers some sense of a pulse on what the end user likes, wants and needs.

"There is a growing understanding that design plays a larger than previously realized role in the adoption, satisfaction and sustainability of customers," Jason Hand, DevOps evangelist for VictorOps, said. "Organizations are beginning to understand that the customers -- and their continuous feedback -- will be the primary driving factor for product trajectories."

Glue multiple apps into a single source of truth

UI developers also need to think about better ways to integrate multiple applications into a single source of truth. The explosion of cloud applications has driven many enterprises to adopt too many applications, which can create more complexity.

"Traditionally moving at the speed of paper, the Architecture/Engineering/Construction (AEC) industry is rejecting outdated, standalone applications in favor of integrated, user-friendly solutions," Kerman Kasad, senior director of worldwide marketing and communications at ARC Document Solutions, explained. Kasad expects a trend toward better UI and UX development integration that will provide a dynamic "single source of truth," in contrast to the practice of logging into multiple software solutions. This will make it easier to store and access documents from any digital device and improve project communication.

The bottom line of all these trends points to one thing: According to Clint Oram, CTO of SugarCRM, companies that focus on differentiating themselves by providing a fantastic customer experience will thrive.

"What really drives great customer experiences is customer-facing employees having the right information and tools to best serve the customer at exactly the right time," Oram said. "Traditional CRM has fallen short in this area. But, in 2016 CRM, users will use enhanced, modern interfaces that incorporate social and mobile customer data to empower the employee to drive extraordinary customer relationships."

Next Steps

Access these 5 tips for creating a UI development framework

Why UX is the first rule of developing mobile apps

Discover why developers are thinking about their users first

This was first published in March 2016

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Essential Guide

A new user experience design process with satisfaction guaranteed
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