Posted by:John W. Williams March 5th, 2015

This is a guest post by John W. Williams, User Experience Designer at IBM. This blog was first published on and has been published here with the author’s permission.

As a user experience designer working on large, enterprise projects, I have been thrilled with the increased focus of enterprise UX. I saw 2014 labelled as the “year of the enterprise user experience” in more than one place. Until the past year or so—in my own work at IBM—mobile enterprise apps were not very high on many customers’ radars. A large percentage of our client base is subject to regulatory compliance that makes opening up their internal apps and data to mobile access much easier said than done.

In the past year, there has been a marked change in customers’ interest in mobile. This new context is gaining a great deal of traction across IBM. I am happy to report that we have been encouraged to adopt a mobile-first design strategy for the past 3-4 years on projects where it is practical to do so. Thus, we will be well-prepared to handle the shift.

Within IBM, we have a ton of intellectual capital. It’s quite easy to fill up all of one’s spare time with the amazing volume of content that is available internally. You can literally learn a whole lot about just about everything via many internal IBM learning resources. However, I deemed it pertinent to step outside of IBM to get a broader view of what is happening in the world. As such, one of my new year’s professional resolutions was to make a concerted effort to attend more external webinars fromO’Reilly and others.

I recently signed up for an online webinar called Enterprise App UX: 7 Keys to Getting it Right  . The webinar was offered by Boston Technology.

Here is my review:

The webinar featured two primary presenters, both from Boston Technology. Richard Smith, VP-Business Development and Preetham Lawrence, UX Consultant.The session starts with Smith discussing why enterprise UX matters and the following figures underscore its importance:

  • 88% of employees express a need to access work documents off the intranet
  • 89% of employees access business apps via mobile
  • 75% of organizations report an increase in productivity from mobile apps
  • 58% of worker express significant frustration in accessing and using enterprise apps on mobile devices
While enterprise applications are distinctly distinguishable from consumer-oriented apps (Facebook, Clipboard, Yelp, etc…) in many ways, we need to strive to make them as easy as the consumer-oriented apps. Failing to do so can have real consequences when one considers the decreased productivity, frustration and lost opportunity in a large organization forced to use poor, difficult to use, unreliable applications. Following Smith’s introduction, Lawrence takes over to define enterprise apps and then outlines the 7 key factors to getting enterprise UX right.

The following are presented as examples of enterprise applications:

Banking & Financial markets

  • Customer portfolio management app
  • Enterprise Banking app
Travel & transportation

  • Airline passenger tracking apps

  • Inventory tracking

Telecomm and civil engineering

  • Safety improvement apps
  • Apps to monitor pipeline breakages

Cross-industry apps

  • CRM & ERP
  • HR Portals

Irrespective of industry, we know that users want more than apps that “just do the job.”  As Lawrence notes, enterprise app users are consumers and expect/deserve sophistication. There is no reason these apps should not be as intuitive as Evernote, Flipboard and other commonly used applications. The consequences of inconsistent UX in the enterprise can be quite severe in terms of wasted time, frustration, and lost revenue.Lawrence presents some rather striking statistics that I had not seen before. Design driven companies outperformed S&P by 228% over the past 10 years. See the Design Management Institute for more on the Design-Centric Index. Companies referenced as “design-centric” include Apple, Coca Cola, Ford, Hermann Miller, IBM, Nike, Proctor & Gamble, Starbucks, Target, and Walt Disney, to name a few.


So what are the 7 Key Considerations for designing better enterprise mobile apps?

  1. Usefulness: design for actual end users: actually talk to them, interviews; put yourself in the users’ shoes; use analytics, if available—> help make big decisions; he recommends tools like IBM Tea Leaf (disclaimer: I work for IBM but have no affiliation with this project)
  2. Usability: the simpler the better; always test; early prototype testing; pay attention to common/standard mobile gestures—tilt, shake, swipe; provide intuitive filters and sorts; use images, as they can communicate a thousand words; seek out real life objects as inspiration for iconography; NEVER RELEASE WITHOUT REAL USABILITY TESTING
  3. Informative: design experience to predict or anticipate a user’s needs; consider stacked icons or + icons to save space
  4. Uniqueness: think outside of the box: “an app’s design determines an app’s destiny”
  5. Accessibility: must balance security with ease-of-use; guide users; use colors as way-finders
  6. Credibility: imperative; integration, reliability, security, authentication
  7. Innovative: leverage device capabilities, keep abreast of device evolution to leverage “bleeding edge” capabilities


All in all, I think the “7 keys” covers things pretty well. The one small critique I have is the speaker’s emphasis on using color judiciously to increase accessibility. While I understand the point–to assist users in finding actions quickly– the negative impact on accessibility for those with varying forms of color-blindness cannot be ignored. So what about accessibility for those users? Anyhow- a small point- but if I could change one thing from this presentation, it would be to move this recommendation to the discussion of usability.

All in all, this is a great, easy and engaging summary of the importance of UX in the enterprise. I would certainly recommend this to anyone who is curious to learn more. It would also serve well as a pointer for a colleague or stakeholder who needs a little prodding on the importance of enterprise UX.


   John W. Williams  works  as a User Experience Designer in IBM’s Reporting, Analytics and Internet of Things. He has  been rated as a top contributor within IBM and regarded as a passionate advocate for the user while possessing the technical knowledge and skills to understand complex solutions.

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Topics : UX

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