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Laying the Foundations for an Engaging Workplace Software User Experience

Chris Bruce, Co-founder & MD, Thomsons Online Benefits

Chris Bruce, Co-founder & MD, Thomsons Online Benefits

Once considered a laggard when it came to a sophisticated user experience, today’s enterprise technology market is catching up with the frenetic pace of development of consumer technology. Businesses and providers alike have realized the critical role that well-built and designed workplace technology plays in engaging and enabling employees and, of course, the negative impact that poor technology can have on the employee experience.

This recognition is leading to increased investment. According to Gartner, worldwide IT spend is set to increase 4.5 percent in 2018, with the enterprise software market projected to grow 9.5 percent. Generating return on enterprise software investment, however, depends largely on whether employees actually use it, and the user experience it offers has a large part to play in that.

As a result, developers embarking on a workplace enterprise software project need to consider the following three questions:

1. When employees are operating across multiple devices, how can you make sure they have a continuous, seamless experience?
2. What does a great platform look like? What is the common denominator for an exceptional user experience?
3. How can you future-proof your technology to ensure it keeps up with continuously shifting userand technology demands? How does integration with other platforms fit into this?

Laying the firstbricks

Just as the best houses are built on strong foundations, the best technology emerges from robust groundwork. Creating an attractive front-end user interface is only valuable if the back-end is powerful enough to deliver the predictability, speed, and service that users expect and have become accoustomed to.

For example, enrolling in private medical insurance (PMI) used to be cumbersome and time-consuming. It was also fraught with the possibility of human error, which has even greater ramifications when it concerns an individuals health. However, by automating the process through employee benefits technology, this risk is significantly reducedand the process simplified. Employees can log in to their benefits software to apply for PMI and enter the required information into the system, which is then sent automatically to the insurer to generate a policy. For employees, the system is easy, intuitive, and reliable—key to a user experience that keeps employees engaged with their benefits program.

"Just as the best houses are built on strong foundations, the best technology emerges from robust groundwork"

Organizing the space

But building a house is about more than just laying the initial bricks. Most people expect a house to have some common areas: a bathroom, bedroom, kitchen. The same is true for technology. While the number of consumer applications multiplies daily, the most commonly used applications offer a remarkedly similar interface.

Using well-known iconography —a cog for settings, the now incongruous floppy disk for save or shopping carts—all helps to create a sense of familiarity for software users. This instantly reduces the learning curve and improves the overall experience for users. Enterprise technology developers need to be acutely aware of how their audience interacts with consumer technology daily, and consider how they can draw on this to make their own B2B products more intuitive.

Putting out the welcome mat

Just as a house is connected to its wider environment, enterprise technology needs to be open to other software.

As the number of consumer applications increases, so too does the desire for simplicity, and technologies that consolidate and pull information sources together. The likes of Alexa and Siri would serve little purpose if they were unable to communicate with the information sources and apps they rely on.

Enterprise technology needs to be mindful of this shift and ensure it’s fully embedded with any software that its users might rely on to organize their lives, whether in or out of work. This will be key to ensure that there is no discrepancy between the experience offered to consumers and employees. If workers are using one productivity tool, then it makes sense for other technologies, such as benefits software, to integrate with this. In turn, this means that users are offered better access to their benefits in whatever way suits them, increasing engagement.

Making it a smart home

New technologies are evolving all the time, permeating our homes and workplaces. Virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR) offer new possibilities for how we engage with technology, either through the out-of-body experience offered by VR or the blurred distinction between reality and digital offered by AR and MR. Such tools can be used to make technology more engaging, or streamline the user experience by making it easier to interact with the technology itself.

Returning to the example of benefits software, VR can be used to help employees experience the impact of potential benefits decisions by visualizing their outcomes. What better way to illustrate to younger employees how starting to save for retirement now can drastically improve quality of life in the later years than by showing them directly? Bring AI into the equation and we can see benefits software carrying out tasks without requiring a direct input, for example adding new-born children to medical insurance when maternity or paternity leave is taken.

If such technology is to be more than just a gimmick and move past the initial hype cycle, it needs to map seamlessly onto existing technology and add real value that employees can’t get elsewhere.

It should be clear by now that there really is only one answer to the questions for developers to ask themselves that I outlined earlier: build from the ground up not the top down—and the rest will follow. You can’t build a beautiful first floor extension without the foundations or ground floor.

This approach ensures the development of scalable technology able to offer the same user experience regardless device, platform or medium. It will create software that is capable of flexing to meet user demand, that integrates seamlessly with the technology that consumers are already using, and accommodates the future needs of users and the wider market.