Having run and sat through countless numbers of software evaluations I’ve developed a firm belief that while features are important, the leading enterprise-class vendors have solid enough functionality. In most of their solutions the requirements of many organizations are able to be met through delivered functionality. What separates many of the solutions is how they go about delivering the functionality and less about what functionality they have. One important aspect of how a vendor delivers the outcomes promised is making sure that users actually use the tool.
The vendors all know this and have been busy incorporating new and flashy features into their products. What used to be all about configuration capabilities, flexibility in process, and end-user reporting capabilities has shifted to whose user experience will grab more attention. Adobe Flash used to be the tool of choice for highly creative web sites, and feature-rich consumer-oriented eCommerce sites. In the last several years the software vendors in the HR space have firmly embraced Flash, Flex, and similar technologies to help make their products more engaging to end users. Additionally, some vendors have gone so far as to build plug-ins into Outlook to engage users in the single-most popular business tool ever invented.
While there is a need to continue to push functionality forward, one cannot discount the user experience. To that end, I strongly believe that a more engaging user experience will lend itself to better outcomes. Having users want to use a tool and getting terrific adoption of a mediocre process generally will provide more value than a functionally superior tool, coupled with well engineered processes, wrapped around a less engaging user experience. Think of it using the diagram below where tool grade refers to the grade of the user experience:
This model assumes that the level of functionality in both solutions are fairly similar.
May times I’ve seen times when a superior product from a functionality perspective is not selected simply due to the user experience. A well designed user experience can reduce your training costs, simplify your change management efforts, and help to build/further the credibility of HR within the organization. The ideal solution should look more like a consumer-focused website such as Amazon.com and less like something you need an engineering degree to comprehend.
When a tool is intended for a small audience who will be utilizing the application on a daily basis, you can get away with a sub-optimal user experience (the big ERPs got away with this for years). As the number of users grows and more casual users are exposed to your solution, the user experience becomes critical.
In short, software shouldn’t always about features & functions – it should be about enabling outcomes. Please be sure to keep this in mind during your next product evaluation.