From the Inside September/October 2014

"There is nothing wrong with your existing MultiValue Line of Business (LOB) software! There is everything wrong with your LOB 'user experience'."

This is not just an issue with 20-30 year old MultiValue applications, but all the 20-30 year old mainframe/client server LOB software. The LOB software is stable, or your business would have bankrupted by now. It is customized to make your business run smoothly. It is efficient when generating responses to specific business reporting and Business Intelligence (BI) questions. It validates, stores, and responds to the usersā€¦

And the users hate it!

If you listen closely to which users are making the most noise, it's not just your C-Level management, but your end users. It is those Millennials; all your newly hired employees.

Why? Their expectations are different because they grew up with technology. They have seen technology evolve quickly from desktop computers, to laptops, to smart phones, to tablets, to phablets. All these tech solutions have caused the users' interfaces and software experiences to evolve beyond what software developers could have envisioned as few as 10 years ago.

So what?! Those are all things used by individuals; consumers. They are comparing Microsoft/Google/Apple/Intuit's software offerings to your hardened business application. We know they aren't the same.

And we are right. Consumer grade applications are not the same. They set the expectation. In the past, LOB software developers could "blow off", or "work around", these user expectations by providing dashboards and prettier reporting. When C-Level management had the only complaints which mattered, we could focus on just the points where the bosses interacted with the systems and data.

Nowadays, the end users are just as (and sometimes more so) tech savvy than the IT department. This causes "rogue users" to show up more and more often. These are your company's employees, deciding they can do it better, or thinking IT is too slow to do what they want and need. I won't go any deeper into the issue of "rogue users" right now, other than to say that they are the reason that everyone is screaming for change.

This change has nothing to do with the LOB software, and everything to do with the interfaces and experiences users expect from the LOB software. They see QuickBooks, and ask: "Why can't the LOB software do that?" They see Salesforce, and ask: "Why can't the LOB software do that?" They see Google Apps (Sheets, Maps, BI) and ask: "Why can't the LOB connect to that?" They look at Outlook and Office and wonder: "Why can't the LOB integrateā€¦ everything else seems to connect to Office?" They see iPhones and Android phones and wonder: "Why can't the LOB be accessed from them?"

It's not about GUI. It's not about Dashboards. It's not about desktops and tablets. It's not about Mobile, and it's not about web.

It's about interaction. It's about data. It's about information, and about using the information their way, when they need it.

When you have users who are just as tech savvy as the IT department, the users no longer ask for help to figure out how to get something done. They just do it until something blows up in their face and you are required to fix it. Again, this is a separate topic, for another day. This article isn't about the "Modern IT" department, and how the IT department is changing.

The key thing to keep in mind here is that your users want to interact with your LOB data and software, and not be controlled by it. Most LOB software is very controlling. You can only access the LOB data one way. You can only get information into the LOB software one way. You can only interact with your day-to-day contacts, accounts, and process with one interface.

Your users want to interface with the LOB from any device, software, or interface they have, especially the ones they use the most. This means, if they are in front of Outlook all day, they want to interface with the LOB from Outlook. If they want to look at reports, then they might want it in Excel. And they want any changes made in Excel to be processed through the LOB software for bulk updates.

If they aren't currently at their desk, they want to access the LOB from their smart phone and tablet. If they are at their desk, then they want to access their information via a larger screen and keyboard. These adaptive interfaces are not limited to what hardware is being used, but to the environment the user is in.

Are they checking in from the airport? Are they talking on the phone while commuting to work? Is this a quick look during lunch or dinner? Are they on the warehouse floor or manufacturing floor? At their desk? On the web? Are they answering email? Are they sitting at home?

You can no longer create just one interface to your LOB application. Each of these interfaces change how the user wants to interact with the data, which in turn affects the subset of the data they wish to see. How someone uses LOB data and software on a smart phone is different from how they use it on tablet, even though both of these are mobile devices.

If they have a keyboard and mouse, a user does not want to reach up to touch a screen, they want to keep their hands on the keyboard and mouse. If they are at a customer's location, then they want to be alerted to information that is useful to them in context - like low inventory or recommended sales - not all the other information, like internal company communications.

All these expectations are focused on how the user is experiencing the LOB application, not on how the LOB does its job. It's about how the user can do their job to help the business run.


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Sep/Oct 2014