Pretty user interfaces and extra PLM buttons

Pretty user interfaces and extra PLM buttons


Enterprise software is infamous by its complexity. After years of preaching complexity and rich set of functions, enterprise vendors are turning towards usability and user experience. PLM vendors were following the trend to make their products easier to use. You can see it in many marketing presentations claiming intuitiveness and ease of use.

Unfortunately, not many things changed in the usability of enterprise systems. Most of vendors translated usability as a move from ugly to pretty interfaces. PLM vendors made the same move. PLM software circa 1990s was ugly and complicated. Last 10 years were spent to make PLM software nicer. However, it is still complicated software.

Five enterprise software trends to watch 2016 speaks about rapid advance in user experience. The following passage is focuses exactly on the problem of how to move from pretty interface to new user experience.

Trend 3 – Rapid Advances in User Experience. In 2016, user experience will go beyond a pretty interface.  The technology landscape will be dominated by an intense focus on user experience.  Smarter systems will facilitate seamless interactions that anticipate the needs and behaviors of users.  Expect intelligent software to reduce the need for user interaction at all.

As consumers we’ve come to expect an elegant and intuitive experience.  As business users we will expect the same. Excellent usability makes your business applications far more impactful.   As your teams exchange more data, more often and from more places than ever before, you’ll realize increased efficiency, more collaboration, and better, timelier information.

So, how to improve user experience? Is there a way that can make existing products better and provide an indication to product managers, user experience designers and engineers what to improve?

I was searching for inspiration and found Develop3D article written by Al Dean – What does that button do, exactly? Read the article – it is very entertaining. One of the funny examples Al brings is a button in BMW car that remained unused in several generations of the same car. User had no clue what does that button do. At the same time, article comes with the idea how IoT can help us to identify what is unused elements and functions of a product.

The following passage can give you an idea what is that about.

It was during one of these sessions that I thought through a comment I’d overheard at a recent PTC press event. It was made during a discussion about the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) and the view that designers and engineers will soon have the potential to capture more information about how their products are used than ever before.

The common thought is that these IoT systems will give us huge amounts of data to improve, incrementally but perhaps even revolutionise, how our products are built and subsequently used. Much of the focus is on finding new things to do with our products, things that can make life easier or cheaper for the customers. Then someone pointed out that the same systems, if used properly, could also show designers and engineers where features and functions aren’t used.

It made me think new generation of PLM software can leverage cloud and connected technology to monitor and discover unused functions and data elements of enterprise software. How to do that? It all starts from monitoring and information recording. The storage is cheap and data recording is easy these days. By collecting usage data from backend and front-end elements of the software, vendor can make a conclusion about what functionality is not in use. I think it will require some intelligence beyond the level of “button was pressed”, but it is doable.

What is my conclusion? Data collection is an important element of user experience improvements. Without collecting the data, your ability to improve user experience is questionable. You can make many guesses, but without applying some data science, to decide how to improve user experience of existing systems will be impossible. At the same time, modern cloud products are using infrastructure that is ready for massive data collection and analysis. My hunch, it will take some time to re-architecture existing products support collection of needed information. New software build on top of modern cloud infrastructure can get some advantage over existing products. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Want to learn more about PLM? Check out my new PLM Book website.

Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of openBoM developing cloud based bill of materials and inventory management tool for manufacturing companies, hardware startups and supply chain.

Photo credit coding horror blog


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