During a recent interview with a CEO of a manufacturing company, he told me, “If you don’t have the latest tablets and iPhones, the young people don’t even want to work in your company.” We so often hear the blitz from the tech companies on mobile, cloud, and so on. But hearing it from the user side has even more of an impact. When we talk to the development side, we find they also are struggling to recruit young IT/computer science grads into the supply chain and enterprise market. Who wants to work on old technology?
But these issues and the new trends are not just a cool factor. New approaches are making a huge difference in user productivity, and companies’ competitiveness.
Changing How We Interact with Systems’ UI/UX
Technologists, through innovations such as highly visual and elegantly simple user interfaces, have dramatically lowered the barrier to technology adoption. Google, Amazon, and others led the way demonstrating that extremely powerful systems could be developed in ways that require no user training. Applying this principle to the enterprise has not been easy, but it has made a huge impact on the time to benefits and ongoing value of technology.
Of course, supply chain and enterprise systems are more complex. So making a commitment to understanding business processes is required. But don’t all applications software companies do that? Well, no! Processes they get. But to truly understand the work and how it is done, there has to be a greater intimacy with the worker bees and how they get their work done. At JDA Labs they call these user experience people ghosts;1 they watch users do their work without interacting or interfering with them so that they can see what the real issues are.
A user-experience design approach adapts to existing behaviors and processes, making systems easier to adopt. User experience professionals ‘live’ with the users, understanding their processes, pains, and passions and they create the user’s story. They understand how each unique type of user — the persona — engages with and uses the system. BizSlate applied user experience design principles and spent hundreds of hours in the initial phases of product development working with customers to understand how they work — immersing themselves in the arena of their customers’ businesses — on site and on the road with 25 different businesses. They traveled with their customers to trade shows (a prime selling arena for wholesalers) and went out with their customers on sales calls and into logistics to gain a complete understanding of their users’ ways of working, their challenges, and needs. (You can read more about this here.)
Another concept we are all familiar with is search. Search engines have changed the world of business. Only now are powerful search methods being embedded within enterprise systems. Beyond marketing, search is being deployed to make the computer a real helpmate, reducing the administrative paper chase — the burden of constantly trying to find documents such as sales orders, agreement of pricing, purchase orders, and so on. This supports casual users like management, whose daily searches are about customer orders or products, and also those who tackle customer challenges. It also helps with the massive data entry and management challenges of professionals who are more tethered to their desktops managing parts, SKUs, pricing, order processing, and customer service. Most of these folks have charts and tables posted over the desks and on their peg boards to ‘look things up.’ We saw huge improvements for these types of issues with BizSlate’s Wholesale solution.
Managed Business Process Services
Of course, cloud removes the burden of IT from the enterprise. Cloud is becoming a bigger part of the enterprise market for this reason. And for supply chain, where integration with trading partners is essential, cloud has been the choice for a very long time.
But there is more to implementation than IT. Business process challenges also loom. This is an area we have been writing a lot about lately. Closing the Gap in Adoption hints at some variants in approaches to logistics, where industry knowledge is so important. Companies like Logility, JDA, and HighJump2 have committed themselves to embracing new UI/UX and embracing a new generation of developers. Sean Elliot and Bill Ashburn3 at HighJump mentioned that they know that this is a multi-year investment to transform the millennial techies into supply chain professionals. Co-mingling experienced supply chain professionals (generally who have more than 10 years’ experience in supply chain) with tech-savvy developers creates a winning team to support implementations and customer support.
New Gen for All Gen
The reality is that the millennials are reaping the reward of a lot of foundational work done by those who went before. For their part, they are bringing new ideas and asking why and why not a lot, causing us to find better ways to do things. Ease of use and better productivity are something all ages can get their head around.
You can find a more complete look at development concepts applied to enterprise in Modernizing the Midsize Business.
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Modernizing the Midsize Business — how technology developers are changing enterprise systems for SMBs
Infor’s Innovation efforts
Logility Voyager Thumbprint — new UI and mobile
3 Sean Elliot is VP of Technology and is responsible for the technology architecture and Bill Ashburn is CMO and Senior VP of Marketing at HighJump. — Return to article text above
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