August 26, 2013

Three Rules for Building Highly Usable Enterprise SaaS Solutions

Although SaaS companies like Netsuite and Salesforce.com have been around awhile, the market is still in the early stages of delivering software as a service to enterprises. There are two schools of thought on this.

One common mindset is that enterprise IT organizations will eventually have to move in the direction of SaaS as users dictate how software gets consumed.

Another view is that consumer-originated SaaS companies have the user interface down, but don't understand the enterprise. And that large enterprises will never accept this model.

I believe reality is somewhere between. The challenge will be giving enterprise users consumer-grade ease of use with enterprise-grade security and compliance.

At Syncplicity we have formulated three ways vendors can successfully offer highly usable—in fact beautiful—applications for the enterprise with zero compromise.

Rule #1 – Build Beautiful and Frictionless Applications

Everyone knows it’s important to delight the user. When you build a great app, user engagement will be high and measurable. 

At Syncplicity, these are our guiding principles for driving usage through design:

  • Use modern UI paradigms. Users expect apps to look sharp and modern. Incorporate best-in-class design: clean and simple fonts, clever scrolling, and motion. Your apps will go viral.  
  • Inherent personality of the OS. Users adopt different devices because they love the UI. They aren’t interested in a generic or atypical experience.
  • Eliminate extra steps. Our goal is for users to take "no extra steps" to get the job done with our service. We adapt to the way they work rather than forcing artificial change.
  • Obsess over use cases. Clearly define specific use cases before designing new features. Ask questions about who is using the app, under what conditions, and what they are trying to accomplish. If the feature doesn’t align, it shouldn’t make it into the app.
  • De-featuring is a feature. Offering too many features actually discourages usage. Monitoring tools assess what features are being used. Eliminate the rest.

Rule #2 – Don’t compromise security

The best enterprise apps provide security and compliance without over-burdening the user. Sometimes, they can even enhance the experience.

The Syncplicity approach:

  • Protection can be seamless. Single Sign On is an easy way to enhance security while accommodating users. Try to leverage customers’ existing security infrastructure rather than replicate it.
  • Set it and forget it. Using centralized policies offers security and compliance without requiring users or IT to take extra steps. We recommend setting a policy for external folder sharing rather than asking admins to set up secure workspaces.
  • Policy-driven compliance. Policy-driven approaches to data location ensure compliance without impacting user experience.
  • Protect by enabling (and monitoring). When users bring their own device to work, data is at risk, often without IT’s knowledge. Controls and meaningful and automatic reporting let IT manage the unmanageable.
  • Hands off the data. One of the biggest inhibitors to cloud adoption: questions about who owns, or has access to, customer data. SaaS vendors need to clearly state that they don’t own customer data and can’t use or even see customer data.
  • Trust but verify. It is critical for SaaS vendors to go through the appropriate certification process to make customers comfortable with their selection.
     

Rule #3 – If it doesn’t get deployed (properly), it won’t get used

The proliferation of consumer tools in the enterprise has convinced some in IT that they don’t need to focus on deployment anymore. That may be true at the individual, team, or even departmental level. But enterprise vendors need to focus on “deployment at scale” as much as on user features. Here are our recommendations:

  • Make deployment easier. Then users can get started right away. For IT, this ranges from making it easy to provision and pre-configure user accounts to working with existing infrastructure such as authentication and storage.
  • Not all users are alike. Different groups require different configurations and policies. Highly usable enterprise apps need to accommodate all without creating a burden on the user or IT.
  • There’s no such thing as “no training needed.” No matter how simple the app, when deployed at scale, guidance is needed. Be prepared to offer users best practices to drive adoption.
  • Monitor and adjust. It’s important to give users (and IT) the tools they need to monitor and ultimately optimize and promote proper system usage.

The age of delivering consumer-grade experiences within enterprise-grade apps is a relatively new phenomenon, and I expect these rules will keep evolving. But the trend is here to stay. The way we design, build, and deploy enterprise apps has been permanently, and positively, transformed forever. And that’s a great thing for users, IT, and vendors alike! 

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