Infor’s Chief Creative Officer really believes enterprise software can be beautiful

SUMMARY:

Marc Scibelli, head of Infor’s design agency Hook & Loop, talks about the challenges of redesigning enterprise software for the internet-age and making it beautiful to use.

[sws_grey_box box_size=”690″]SUMMARY – Infor’s Chief Creative Officer, Marc Scibelli, discusses the challenges facing the company’s design agency and how it is approaching the redesign of enterprise software [/sws_grey_box]

Infor has based its ‘turnaround strategy’ on three core pillars – investing in micro-vertical apps, creating these around the architecture of the internet, and

Infor's Chief Creative Officer, Marc Scibelli
Infor’s Chief Creative Officer, Marc Scibelli

making their design so beautiful that people actually want to use them.

We hear a lot about how enterprise software companies are investing in bettering their user experiences, because a generation of users now expect all software to work with the same simplicity as their smartphone OSs. However, more often than not, most enterprise software companies make the same mistakes time and time again and the UX fails to inspire.

The problem being that creating a good UX doesn’t just involve making things look pretty. Far from it. Visual design is only one part of what should be an overhaul and fundamental reassessment of how workflows and processes are structured within enterprise apps.

It should be a top down approach – UX first, build second. As opposed to building a product with a whole host of features and rich functionality, and then approaching the user experience as an afterthought. Because, let’s face it, if people don’t want to use it, what good is it going to be?

Infor is trying to create applications that no longer require enterprises to have ‘super users’. And it is taking this seriously.

All of this is being spearheaded by Infor’s new design agency, Hook & Loop, which was launched less than two years ago. Since its inception, Hook & Loop has become a force to be reckoned with internally at the company, with it now having responsibility for final sign on all new application releases.

Not only this, all recent acquisitions made my Infor have been run-by the Hook & Loop team to ensure that the company being bought can adhere to the agency’s strict SoHo design standards. And Infor’s Chief Creative Officer, Marc Scibelli, works closely with, and very much has the ear of, CEO Charles Phillips.

And so, at Infor’s annual user conference in New Orleans this week, I jumped at the opportunity to sit in on an intimate Q&A with Scibelli, to get an understanding of his thought process and the challenges that the agency faces in overhauling applications that have historically been cumbersome and tricky to use.

My first question to Scibelli – why take on the challenge of enterprise software? He said:

When I came to Hook & Loop and enterprise software it was a giant opportunity, a huge opportunity – to work in a real industry that had innovation and design atrophy for a number of years. My background at design agencies has always been about pulling people into stories and experiences that they don’t want to be pulled into.

The idea that enterprise software is really frickin’ boring and has sucked for a long time, presents a big opportunity to make some big improvements. I couldn’t pass that up, right?

inforum 2014Scibelli added, however, that this challenge would not be possible without the complete backing of the exec team at Infor. He said that Phillips and his team could very easily got him in as a token hire to make things look pretty, but not really fundamentally change the design of enterprise software. However, the opposite has been true. Scibelli said:

They really challenged me and asked me to rethink it from the top down, and they promised to give me full support. We’ve gone from $1.2 million in budget to over $11 million in less than two years. The dollars keep advancing. We’ve got a huge footprint in New York and that keeps growing – we just bought another five floors. The headcount has gone from 15 to over 100, so the investment is there.

But with that comes a lot of responsibility. Being so close to the executives, I’m allowed to infiltrate and influence even the decisions we make about basic architectural structure and how it can influence what we do with the UX. Without that, it would have just been a total downward spiral. That was instrumental to me coming in.

You have to be able to lock onto a passionate thing, but also be ready to change your mind as soon as you get new information. That’s what we instil in our culture in New York, it’s really important to be mentally flexible that way.



Scibelli said that having the backing of Phillips has meant that working with product teams that were perhaps stuck in their ways has made the journey to better design and UX a lot easier. I think that this is probably understating it a bit – I’ve been told that product teams were not happy at all when Hook & Loop was introduced. However, this anger has largely petered out since the agency’s approach has proved to be a real asset to the perception of Infor applications.

What’s great about Hook & Loop and my position as CCO, is that I’m right there. It doesn’t just start and then they call me three months later. I’m there from the time that they consider an acquisition, I’m there with the product and development teams, the whole way through learning what we are going to do, what the plan is going to be. It’s really easy for my team to step in and say, we are not going to do that, it’s not going to work if we do that.

One of the phrases coined during the conference’s keynote sessions this week was how Infor is trying to “cut the bloat out of enterprise software”. However,Hook & loop I was also interested to find out how hard this is to do – enterprise software is complicated for a reason, it supports extremely complex workflows and processes. Is there anywhere that Hook & Loop has struggled to cut out the bloat?

The answer, of course, is yes. Scibelli said that the extremely complex processes, such as exception management, take some serious thinking through and design reassessment. However, he believes that this will now be aided by the launch of Infor’s new Dynamic Science Labs, which are based near MIT and focused on integrating analytics tightly with the design of Infor apps.

I think what has been challenging is understanding why a system is in place – like exception management, for example. Every time I talk about exception management I’m lost, because it is such a deeply niche thought process. Exception managers exist to call out exceptions of a service and its the one place that software really elevates information to the top, it doesn’t really tell what’s happening or what’s going to happen – because there are all these exceptions that could happen from a process.

There can be hundreds of exceptions for a process and you get this laundry list of things that could be messing you up, but science and data haven’t played a role yet in understanding why, because so much of it is just being done in someone’s head.

That’s why we are working with the science team, because this is a mess. It just seems like there are more and more exceptions as these manufacturing and distribution processes get more and more complex. So it’s just going to keep spiralling out of control. That’s been a challenge, but we are trying to overcome it.

Verdict

I am consistently impressed by Infor’s dedication to rethinking how enterprise applications work via Hook & Loop’s design team. Everyone I’ve spoken to this week in New Orleans agrees – the agency is a great asset and should continue to play an important role in Infor’s future.