Historically, PLM products are well know for being complicated and hard to use. It has deep roots in the way enterprise software was built for many years. The assumption that business users will have to use software dictated by IT and needed for their business function. The picture below is a good demonstration for “typical” complex enterprise software application UX:
One of the special reasons why PLM products were ridiculously complex is the fact most of them just reflected data management technology built into a product. The famous “flexible data model” paradigm was around PLM for the last 15-20 years. And you can trace the roots of data model in all PLM applications in almost every PLM application today – from very old ones to even modern applications developed for the last 5-10 years. The situation is improving in all verticals of enterprise software. But it is slow and dependent on many constraints – usually PLM vendors stuck between existing products, customers and technical constraints when trying to decide about UX improvements.
Despite the overall complexity, it can bring results. I reflected on some of them in my earlier blog – PDM & PLM UI Makeup: New trends in user experience.
But, some fundamental paradigm shift required. People like to praise Apple for their focus to design products with a great focus on user experience. My attention caught Business Insider article – Steve Jobs’ reaction to this insult shows why he was such a great CEO. Watch the video – it is very short.
I specially liked the part where Steve Jobs speaks about designing from “user experience” to “technologies” and not backwards. Here is the passage:
…one of the things I’ve always found is that you’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards for the technology”. You can’t start with the technology and try to figure out where you’re going to try to sell it. And I made this mistake probably more than anybody else in this room. And I got the scar tissue to prove it. And I know that it’s the case,” Jobs said. “And as we have tried to come up with a strategy and a vision for Apple, it started with ‘What incredible benefits can we give to the customer? Where can we take the customer?’ Not starting with ‘Let’s sit down with the engineers and figure out what awesome technology we have and then how are we going to market that?’
As I can see most of PLM products are inherited user experience from two technologies – data models and workflows. Although these technologies are absolutely needed to build PLM applications, it gave a very complex experience to users. For the last few years, I can see a significant effort done by PLM developers to improve user experience. Many applications are getting facelift. As an example, we can see more 3D, search driven experience and data visualizations. These are good things to make user experience better.
What is my conclusion? PLM developers should take a deep breadth and ask hard questions about user experience. Most of PLM applications are essentially “giant database browsers” with complex logic. Workflow is a dominant user experience model for process applications. It is a time to think backwards, start from new experience and come with the ideas to existing or new technologies can support it. Just my thoughts…
Photo credit Udi Waizer SAP presentation