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Enterprise Software

The Future of Enterprise UX

December 22, 2023
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Enterprise software runs the world. Take a moment to consider, nearly every aspect of your life is fuelled, behind the scenes by complex, domain-specific software. A chain of logistics software gets you your Amazon package. A grocery inventory system and point of sale allow you to purchase fresh food. Your paycheque arrives in your account via a payroll system which is setup to make sure the correct amount arrives at the correct time. Your doctor appointment is facilitated through practice management tools to book your appointment and record key information in your electronic health record.

This B2B software is complex, it contains enormous datasets, layered permissions models, complex workflows, and are often very configurable. Oddly, they often have some of the most fundamentally lacking user experiences, even though the efficiency and accuracy business cases are so strong and in some cases mean life or death.

Enterprise software is an interesting domain, because it has many of the most basic UX issues, but also huge potential to innovate and usher our world into the future as technology continues to explode and effect all of the major systems in society.

At P&P we specialize in complexity and innovation, working across wildly different domains everyday: genomics, big data, HR systems, banking and finance, to name a few. And you know what else it does, apart from really spotlighting our stratospheric nerd score? 🤓 Immersion in these worlds helps us identify emerging trends…

This future look is our expert take: what we’re seeing more of and what we see emerging in 2023 and beyond. 🔮Let’s go people!

🔗 Want to deep dive into UX patterns for enterprise? Check out our UX pattern analysis articles.
Angry nerd illustration punching computer saying "CLT + ALT + DELETE THIS!!"

Today’s technology is ‘Smart’, but people are smarter

In today’s world of ‘smart’ technology, it’s amazing how often we are still finding that enterprise products are not smart enough to meet basic user needs and expectations.

Our systems (front and backend) are woefully underperforming when mapped against the growing complexity of customer workloads. We’ve been observing exponential growth in the sheer number of datasets being plugged into enterprise software (and the scale of the data itself), and at the same time, the common decision-making workflows associated with these data sets are increasingly complex.

So, we’ve got outsized data sets overwhelming system capacity while on the front-end users are demanding smarter, multi-layered functionality in order to manipulate the data and minimize their own cognitive load. However, all too often we see outdated UIs slowing people down, making them work slower with more frustration.

Workers are turning to their enterprise tools expecting them to be sophisticated enough to bear the brunt of the evolution of work. So far, we have few examples of products that really seem to be aware of the extent to which users need their products to up the ante.

Products that waste employee hours and brain capacity on hard-to-use functionality and over-simplified workflows are being scrutinized today, and will be displaced soon enough.

As the market continues to saturate, product teams that fail to adapt and support the increasingly lofty goals of today’s workforce are severely at risk. And it won’t be a gracious exit, either. Users are only becoming more vocal as they assess their software stacks complaining to management when their software misses the mark and heading to (thriving) online review and social sites to rant into the ether. You can bet we’re only going to hear more about how the software we’re offering just isn’t smart enough.

There is still runway here, but it’s running out. Users expect to be able to depend on the software they use everyday to meet their basic needs, at a bare minimum. This is table stakes that will keep you in the game, but Enterprise products can start working to exceed expectations now by committing to visible efforts toward widely desired features and functionality.

Users expect to be able to depend on the software they use everyday to meet their basic needs, at a bare minimum.

How might you ease the cognitive load of your users? How can you better handle deeply nuanced interactions that are critical to users? How might you work to provide a sense of place to help support the tectonic shift to remote work scenarios?

If you’re not sure where to start, a good launchpad is connecting with the users that know your product best.

Collaboration illustration showing floating cursors

Collaboration featureset explosion

With this tectonic shift that has descended upon the enterprise software industry in response to the mass transition to remote work, collaborative tools deserve a spotlight of their own.

In our practice, we’ve found that our workflows are changing drastically due to the advent of collaborative features inside some of our core tools.

Let’s use our work at P&P Labs as a case study. In our practice, we’ve found that our workflows are changing drastically due to the advent of collaborative features inside some of our core tools. These features may have been on the radar pre-pandemic, but the events of the last two years have catapulted collaborative features onto the roadmap and expedited their push to production.

Products like Figma, for example, have come out swinging with the addition of in-app collaboration, making live collaborative work organic, seamless and (we feel) truly delightful. On top of that, Figma has improved its functionality around scaling design into workflows, expediting design work and pushing what we can do, faster.

This is our personal experience using one of our most beloved tools, but Figma really is leading the charge in this realm as far as we can see. GoogleWorkspace comes in hot at the top of the innovation list here as well. But, what we are seeing by and large is a mad dash to offer extensive integration opportunities in order to streamline seamless workflows between products – integration above collaboration. A step in the right direction, yes,  but still a janky, subpar experience for users.  

Long story short: if you aren’t actively supporting seamless collaboration between your users, you’re late. 😱

Illustration showing robot with giant biceps

AI User Experiences

When we talk about interactions in enterprise UX these days, we’re really no longer talking about a hover effect or a modal pop-up. The complexity of enterprise now consistently requires deeply complex interactions. We’re talking about advanced, highly-sequenced design that incorporates unique, multi-stepped interactions, which consider complex logic and happen over multiple timelines between interdependent users. Add AI to this mix, our familiar interactions with AI usually include passively contributing to your Spotify algorithm. This passive relationship isn’t going to cut it going forward.

We are viewing and manipulating data in new and brain-breaking ways, and although interactions with AI are growing in popularity, we’ve not scratched the surface of what’s possible. We are on the cusp of a new brand of technology that will enable us to work faster, smarter and with multiplied brain capacity. In preparation for these changes, those of us working in Enterprise UX are now tasked with inventing new patterns and ways of actively harnessing this tech in more and more sophisticated ways. Discoverability and in-context learning will be key.

Imagine a world where users can extend their brain capacity, leverage different models on the fly, while still remaining in a state of flow.

Imagine a world where users can extend their brain capacity, leverage different models on the fly, while still remaining in a state of flow. This could have implications on how everything in society works (even potentially our cumbersome 40 hour work week).

Our next frontiers are machine learning, deep learning in the world of Enterprise, probably in collaboration with power users. If this new wave of technology makes you feel a bit queasy, that’s normal don’t worry. Pop some Gravol and get ready to ride. 🏄‍♀️

Illustration of a bulldozer

The Race to Refactor, Rebuild and Redesign is on

We’ve been seeing unprecedented demand for redesign work in enterprise software, as companies clamour to remain relevant. Industries are advancing so quickly now that the software just can’t keep up. What’s driving this industry advancement? Well, the call is coming from inside the house. The industry itself is the most powerful driving force at work. We’re seeing the push as a result of innovations in areas like Genomics and AI, increases in technological feasibility, a rampant propensity to push the limits of what software can do.

If you’re an established product, you’re also at a marked disadvantage in this regard. Young whipper snappers coming into start-up environments are nimble, and quick and have the advantage of building their products with fresh stacks. They’re the beneficiaries of the pre-existing rules and patterns that their predecessors have established, and this gives them a strong advantage.

Young whipper snappers coming into start-up environments are nimble, and quick and have the advantage of building their products with fresh stacks.

Security is another beefy body pushing things forward.  As increasingly sophisticated threats and risks continue to crop up in the digital world, we’re only going to observe more underperforming stacks failing to measure up which will set more drastic, time-sensitive refactor projects in motion. What’s that idiom about bringing a knife to a gunfight? That applies here.

At the end of the day, it’s also about performance. We’ve said it before, and we’ll keep saying it: enterprise UX designers can learn a lot from the B2C world. As tech gets better in the consumer world, we’ve seen increased expectations placed on enterprise software as well. Improvements in loading time and latency in particular have changed expectations in these areas for enterprise tools. Enterprise datasets are vast, and only growing larger, and the stacks they are built on are no match at all.

In order to meet the expectations of tomorrow’s users, software systems need a revamp and a supporting tech stack that can handle the heat. 🌶️

Not sure where to start with your redesign mission? Our crew offers a UX Audit package that’ll give you the necessary actions required.🏃🏻♀️
Illustration of a mobile phone and computer high fiving

Offering mobile and companion experiences

The design and development of most enterprise products focus almost entirely on the desktop experience. The mobile experience is an afterthought and optimizing it is often relegated to the nice-to-have list (where it then lives in perpetuity). In our experience, it’s deprioritized about 80% of the time. But why is that? We suspect it’s because product stakeholders aren’t fully considering workflow and use cases deeply enough. Yes, we said it. Stakeholders are missing the mark.

Making a carbon copy of the desktop experience might be a waste of time, but using these opportunities to be more imaginative in our offerings?

Making a carbon copy of the desktop experience might be a waste of time, but using these opportunities to be more imaginative in our offerings? That’s the golden ticket 🎫. Why do we shy away from opportunities like reimagining the mobile experience entirely when we’ve already learned from countless B2C case studies that innovating for small screens can reveal rich new opportunities for growth (and $$$)?

For example, companion apps are a great way to offer a unique mobile experience that compliments the desktop experience without doubling up on the feature set. As a secondary benefit, this extra layer of intentionality and focus on the user’s true product journey can go a long way in proving that your product has been built with the end-user top of mind. Hint: that’s a characteristic that will not go unnoticed as things continue to shift.

[screenshot of companion mode in meets]

Recently, for example, Google meets deployed ‘companion’ mode, allowing those who are meeting in person in a boardroom setting to easily connect to the room’s video conferencing tech, while maintaining the ability to chat, screen share and access closed captions. This creates a hybridized experience that considers the omnichannel workflow of real-life users. Products that are not addressing their customer’s most common pain points in real-time throughout this shift will ultimately find themselves choking on the dust of more customer-centered software companies.

Illustration of someone with a VR headset on

Screen-free interactions

Taking advanced interaction one step further, what’s really about to bake our collective noodle is the approaching move from our screens to something completely new.

Breaking out of screen-based interactions is a little further down the line, but not so far that it isn’t worth considering as you plan and build your products.  

Breaking out of screen-based interactions is a little further down the line, but not so far that it isn’t worth considering as you plan and build your products. How might your team be on the cusp of this kind of innovation? How can you be what Figma has been to collaboration and remote work when preparing for the advent of AR & VR Enterprise software?

The future is more like Minority report, Tron and Startrek than Office Space.

Illustration of a party hat and noise maker

Innovation and fun

Dare we suggest that there’s room for antics in Enterprise UX? As we saw in the mid-2010s, office spaces committed to offering more ‘fun’ in the shape of perks like on-location massage therapists, napping pods, yoga rooms, beer on tap, bean bags and ping pong tables. This was wildly successful as a recruitment strategy until it became a low-level business culture nightmare. But, now that a lot of our industry’s work is being done at home, the workplace is digital, and some efforts echoing that same 2010s energy are now cropping up in much more playful and endearing ways in the enterprise software we use every day.

Anecdotally, it’s a bit harder to have fun online. But surprising treats and easter eggs (see a screenshot of Asana’s Tab+B feature below) add a layer of humanity and personality that helps us all keep our heads. Take for example these games offered while waiting for your meeting guests on Google Meets; or the popular multi-player games on Jackbox games. We need hybrid products that are fun and functional to keep our remote workforce engaged and energized. (In fact, this is a dream for us at P&P, creating our own off-beat, innovative products that make sure to be hilariously human).

Products that dedicate time and effort to exposing opportunities for fun at work are differentiating themselves, and they’re having a great time doing it! It’s exciting for a bunch of Enterprise UX nerds to build meaningful, satisfying and energizing digital experiences for the workforce. Where could this dichotomy between fun and efficiency take your product next?

Yes, enterprise software is entering the part of the pyramid that doesn’t have ONLY basic needs in it. Let’s actualize this world already.✨

Illustration of happy people powered by love

Wrapping up

Looking forward, whether the goal is more entertainment in digital workspaces or breaking the mould of screen interactions entirely, the overarching theme for the future of enterprise software is rooted in sophistication. Sophistication is inherent in all of the changes we’ve laid out here, and yet, we’re having to simultaneously define what sophisticated technology consists of in real-time as we collectively grow.

We’ve arrived at these trends because we are privileged to work closely with companies across the globe in a variety of verticals and on our own innovations. These companies are at different stages of growth, and we are thankful to be able to innovate and contribute to human ingenuity.

At a bare minimum, we see that user experience must be elevated to keep up with consumer software and the growing complexity of today’s enterprise users’ needs and expectations. Data is getting bigger, our systems are getting more complicated and nuanced, and teams themselves are outgrowing what’s on offer today. They need collaborative, seamless, and scalable products, and that need is only increasing.  

When we look at our client base, we see that redesigns and rebuilds are growing exponentially in frequency, as outdated software stacks make adding functionality more and more cumbersome. This, along with more rigorous security and performance requirements, will propel more software companies to opt for large-scale overhauls in order to stay compliant, secure and relevant.

Then there’s fun, possibilities and wonder in our work. What we do isn’t about watching Black Mirror episodes (getting sad) and then going to work to incrementally improve our data tables, it’s about creating the future that we want to see. All the good bits of who and what we are can come through what we create in this wild world.

Let’s raise our own bar, from bad →  OK→  satisfying → to truly enhancing our potential (brainpower, joyfulness, positive impact).

Got any other trends you’d like to share? Get in touch with the crew.

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