Sig writes about Business Process Software. This discussion came out of an alleged “Firestorm” about how enterprise software is “unsexy”. It’s not just about how business process software isn’t glamourous because the subjects in enterprise software only excite a small subsection of people (I’m sure there’s a niche for Business Process geeks). It’s about how business process software is awkward to use.
Cases in point:
- User Interface – user interface doesn’t have to look bad though sometimes you’d think it was a pre-requisite. Placement of items, text settings too small in any browser, an insistence on using modal pop-ups and, in general, anything designed solely with Win/IE5 in mind. A lot of people think that improved UI is just like adding a bit of AJAX eye candy here and there. But just like in anything, and as I have re-iterated time and time again to UI-challenged Linux advocates “eye candy that has no actual function is just eye candy.” every time they say that either Mac OS X has too much eye candy or that Linux can have just as much eye candy. They don’t get it now, they won’t get it tomorrow.
- UI Testing – would it be too much to expect that they test the user interface on someone who didn’t build it? Things I like in Web interfaces for example – make sure the tab key is set right so you can tab sequentially to the fields you need to use. A certain application I have to work with daily fails in this simple requirement miserably requiring a mix of mousing and keyboard in order to complete all of the fields – including those which must be completed before the task can be completed. Are your widgets and UI conventions set up with a beginner in mind? Would someone new to the application know what they are doing?
- Response time – having two progress bars seems pointless considering there’s only built into the browser. But when one progress bar completes and then the other one starts, you’re left with a feeling of frustration and doubly so when the task fails with some obscure SQL Server error and a developer-written excuse which basically says “Blame Microsoft”. Classy stuff. If your software is going to crap out, try and make it crap out near the start so users don’t get forty minutes into a report preparation using your arcane reports interface and then it fails (and no, you can’t hit back). This is one of the areas of Mac OS X that frustrates so much. People see the spinning pizza of death and assume the machine is locked up because it’s processing. It’s as much a fault with behaviour as with the system that most people don’t realise they can click to another app and continue working. The issue might be that humans are single-tasking, computers multi-task.
According to the article, Enterprise software falls in one of two categories
- The Easily Repeatable Process (ERP)
Processes that handles resources, from human (hiring, firing, payroll and more) to parts and products through supply chains, distribution and production. The IT systems go under catchy names like ERP, SCM, PLM, SRM, CRM and the biggest players are as we know SAP and Oracle plus a long roster of smaller firms.
- The Barely Repeatable Process (BRP)
anything that involves people in non-rigid flows through education, health, support, government, consulting or the daily unplanned issues that happens in every organisation. The activities that employees spend most of their time on every day. Processes that often starts with an e-mail or a call. A process volume, measured by time and resource spent at organisations, probably larger than for the Easily Repeatable Processes.
My day job consists of the BRP stuff. It’s mostly user requests, a small amount of which could be relegated to a bland FAQ or knowledgebase – though in terms of absolute productivity I believe a dedicated person is better at handling this than trying to rely on a rudimentary expert system or worse, a wiki.
I am, however, a big fan of automation. Anything to remove the “tedious” from the day is a good thing. I don’t want to be called about an alert regarding log files on some obscure server, I want the alert to kick off a housekeeping process. I understand there’s an element of trust in there but that has to be balanced with resource planning, you have to balance the cost of log file space with the costs of not having the logs available when you really need them.