Does business software really have to drive us mad?

Edo-Jan Meijer Profile picture for user Edo-Jan Meijer March 26, 2015
Business software design should take our highly evolved brains into account. It doesn't have to drive us mad, writes Unit4's Edo-Jan Meijer.

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Wouldn’t it be nice if business software greeted us every morning when we switched on? In the same way a colleague might. If then, throughout the day, it helped us learn and grow our knowledge. If it understood us, made helpful suggestions and boosted our confidence. This would make our jobs more fun and rewarding, like working as part of a great team.

That’s how applications ought to behave today. But the software we use at work is still so out of sync with the way we work, it’s enough to drive us mad.

Software was originally designed to solve repetitive transactional processing, but it ignored the human element. Over time we’ve learned that its design has a big influence on the way we interact with it. The best software therefore has to be in sync with the psychology of the user, otherwise the digital divide between us and the tasks we need to achieve every day in the office is too great.

Service-based businesses have unique requirements

At a time when digital technology advances are driving growth in the services economy, it’s the people delivering those services that hold the value. Only those organizations that cater for the digital needs of their people will succeed. This creates a massive need for transformation in service and government organizations. To be successful, they need a new kind of application.

The ERP pendulum has always swung towards manufacturing/distribution. The reality is that most ERP platforms in current use and development were created with material and parts in mind. They’ve had a product centric view. All processes, all interactions are centered on products.

Services businesses are centered on people. In people-centric processes, it’s critical to have accurate information at the user’s fingertips, almost in real time. Relevance is also key because customer service representatives don’t have time to track down bits and pieces of data when they have a customer on the phone. They need to be able to make quick decisions. Information needs to make sense right away. Smart analytics, reporting and a clean user experience, regardless of access point, are what separate the good from the great.

Given the world of limitless boundaries that we live in today, information must be available through any device at any time. Many people centric businesses have a variety of remote employees. Some of these employees work in the field and are constantly on the road, while others work from home or in remote locations. Disruption or lack of accessibility is no longer acceptable.

As services businesses make up more and more of the world’s GDP, their systems have to make their people smarter. They have to remove the need to undertake repetitive and low-value tasks – enabling people to focus on what they do best – serving their clients.

Understanding user psychology is at the heart of great software design today

Psychology and the workings of the brain have a lot to do with this business system evolution. The evolution of man began approximately 3.5 million years ago. Our very first ancestors were not that clever. Their lives revolved around fear, food and the opposite sex. That’s all they thought about on a daily basis. Their brains weren’t capable of doing much more than that. Our brains have advanced and 3,500,000 million years on we have become intelligent, social and advanced in many ways.

Let’s consider how our advanced brains interact with the business systems we use every day.  We all have a new brain and an old brain. The new brain is the part of the brain that enables us to hear, see, smell, taste, and feel. But also the part of the brain that enables us to think logically, do mathematics, come up with new ideas, understand languages, be creative and so on. It is the part of our brain that has evolved the most, particularly related to social relationships.

We are much smarter now, but at the same time the old brain still works almost the same as it did 3.5 million years ago. Impulses enter the old brain first, which subconsciously and directly creates an image for us formed by mental short cuts, social agreements, biases, and prejudices. Should we run, fight, eat, mate? When there is a reason for it, and only then, our thoughts can shift from the old to the new brain.

Understanding these two parts of the brain is the key to designing great software. Human nature drives us to want to be accepted and understood by our peers. We want to be remembered and treated with politeness and respect. And we want exactly the same in the social media world as well. Research tells us that if we can identify with an interface (e.g. the interface has the same personality, communication style, treats us like we treat others etc.), we consider that application to be more intelligent, knowledgeable, insightful, helpful and useful. It also makes us happier and the user experience more fun.

How should this impact the way we design software?

The lesson software developers should take from all this is that the interfaces we use have to adapt themselves to us like our peers do in the natural world. Business software of the future has to take into account true human-computer interaction. This is the psychology behind the way we use and interact with these systems.

We have to look for ways to give users an even better day at the office. The combination of technical and social interaction is the future for workplace systems. It is dictating how we design them and will lead to a new generation of social software and applications that work the way we work. Software that no longer drives us mad! What do you like or hate about the software you use and how would you change it for the better?

To find out more about how Unit4 is redesigning people’s experience of business applications, read about our new People Platform launched today.

Image credit: Unit4

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