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What the HR department must know about enterprise UI design

People expect easy-to-use and accessible technology, both in their personal lives and at work. Here's how HR can give it to them.

Over the last decade, user experience and user interfaces have become better and better in the personal realm....

Indeed, widespread mobility and ubiquitous connectivity have changed the perception of how simple using applications should be. UX has reached a new paradigm and users expect easy-to-use UIs that are bereft of technical features, an expectation that has extended to enterprise software, both for on premises and cloud offerings. In other words, employees increasingly expect "good" (e.g., easy and intuitive) when it comes to enterprise UX and enterprise UI design, and for most enterprises, that is one tall order.

Indeed, many organizations have significant investments in business applications and ERP systems that support a myriad of complex processes, which underpin complex business logic that simply cannot be rewritten quickly and easily for a new release of software. Despite the superior application and business logic, the enterprise UI design may not live up to the modern UX needs of an organization. More often than not, it can be simpler to replace the UI than to replace the system. At some point it becomes necessary for organizations to do the latter, which is why it is important for the latest vendors -- which are mostly cloud-based -- to have top-notch UIs.

For enterprise software vendor SAP, on-premises enterprise UI renewal has been a focus for some time. The HR Renewal product released in 2013 spruced up the self-service and HR administrator front end of SAP Enterprise Portal and more recently, SAP has launched its SAP Fiori UI technology for both its on-premises and cloud applications. Rival HR vendor Workday revamped its UI in early 2014, while enterprise software vendor Oracle released revamped UIs for its HCM Cloud and Sales Cloud products in mid-2014.

UI/UX Strategy

CIOs and IT leaders should begin strategizing on how they can leverage a common UI technology across their business applications, including HR. Although specialist back-office applications are not strategic nor widely used by casual users, quite often HR technology is consumed on a mass basis. For example, time entry, vacation booking, goal management and enterprise learning are used on a regular, or at least periodical, basis. A unified user experience provides seamless access to different systems and applications without the user knowing they are using different applications. Single sign-on capabilities underneath the UI enable easy switching between systems and applications.

Understanding the user groups, applications and processes that require a UI upgrade is central to your UX strategy. The "why" is also important. Are you looking for simplicity or efficiency? Are you looking to switch to tablets or other portable devices? Do you require a new UX for a system that you cannot justify replacing? Or do you simply just want to make life easier for your employees?

Technology

Organizations may wish to build their own UI improvements to enterprise applications using UI technology. HTML5 is one of the leading standards for UI development, and is responsive across web and mobile. Companies can also use an existing technology such as the Brazos UI for IBM, SAP Fiori or Motion UI. Even when used solely for HR applications, using a homegrown HTML5-based technology can enable you to put employee-facing processes, forms and requests into an intuitive UI to streamline process activities and self-services.

However, for more far-reaching applications and processes it might make sense to adopt an existing UI technology. In this way, you can use extendible technology built with common UI and programming standards so that you can continue to maintain and extend your application usage with the UI technology you've adopted.

It's important not to forget about mobile in your UX strategy.

It's important not to forget about mobile in your enterprise UX strategy. Mobility is increasingly being adopted across multiple industries for a variety of activities, whether for a specific type of job or simply for employee and manager self-services. This is particularly important if you have a large field-based or mobile workforce. Users need simple applications that they can use quickly and easily while on the move, and even in offline mode when internet access is unavailable. Even if complexity is required in a process, enabling the critical parts to be covered quickly optimizes efficiency. Allowing a user to complete parts of the process later when they have finished their field-based activities creates a much better overall experience for the employee.

As for cloud and enterprise UI design, cloud vendors have already put a focus on usability and UX as part of their overall product strategy and include mobile as part of that strategy. Many on-premises systems are technical in nature and require a more technical understanding of a system, but with the cloud, the focus is on the business process and simplifying that for the end user. But the modern UI of cloud also has other benefits, such as graphical representation of data or analytics visualization. Being able to view your org chart visually makes much more sense to users than a list of employees, for example.

Challenges

Most UI technologies incorporate a web browser, which brings its own set of challenges. Typically the biggest challenge is security and the ability for a web browser to be Sarbanes-Oxley Act compliant and -- in some cases -- HIPAA compliant. Many browsers struggle to be fully compliant and this can affect a rollout of some UI technologies.

Compatibility between browsers can sometimes be an issue, as well as being able to replicate browser behavior of a UI on a mobile device. However, this is become less of an issue with the more widespread use of HTML5.

Next Steps

What you should know about SAP's future UX

How to build better user experience

UX is a modern priority

This was last published in September 2016

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What plans do you have to improve enterprise user experience on your applications?
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One thing that my organization plans to do is to incorporate more user feedback into future processes when implementing new tools, or when implementing a new one. 
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This is the kind of practice we often hear about in the case studies we write here at TechTarget. Some companies make it a very involved, formal part of the implementation process -- several weeks, or even  months, during the requirements-planning and piloting or testing stages.
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