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Making Users Want Your Product: The Importance of UX in Logistics Technology

By Molly Muir, Executive Director of Strategic Shared Services, BDP International

Molly Muir, Executive Director of Strategic Shared Services, BDP International

When I unwrapped my yellow Prodigy license in college, I could not have imagined that by the year 2015 a computer on my wrist would display a text message, remind me that I have a meeting (and that I should be standing for that meeting!), and help me ship presents to my friends all over the world. There are complex technology innovations behind all these developments, but what makes individuals and corporations embrace new technologies is that they work intuitively.

Successful adoption of new technologies, in logistics and in almost all other industries, depends on an intentional emphasis on user experience (UX). What does this mean for CIOs and other senior tech leaders? The UX team must be as foundational as any other part of your technology and design team. They are the partners of your architects and developers; without them, building a tool that users will gravitate to will never be realized.

At BDP, our UX/UI team is an integral part of all application development work. As we design new products and update existing platforms for our existing customers, our UX designers look towards the future use of the products and how they can ensure the product becomes immersed in the users’ lives. Does it empower the user to do more? Are the interactions intuitive and innovative? If the answer is no, our developers continue working on the design.

Including a UX team from the beginning of the development process is a change for most tech shops, including those at logistics companies. In the recent past of software design, considering how users interacted within the product was an afterthought. The tool was coded, all the functionality was built, then designers were brought in to say this is how the tool should look—if this happened at all. Coding in isolation sometimes meant that millions of dollars were spent developing products that were never adopted. Tools built this way may have had robust functionality, but they were usually in no way intuitive.

What has changed? Users of any software—whether at work or at home—expect the same intuitive functionality and design they see from the likes of Google, Amazon, and Apple in all applications. The excuse that logistics applications or other enterprise applications are designed for more sophisticated analytics or search functions than the home user is no longer acceptable. Users demand and only accept applications that are intuitive and easy to use straight out-of-the-box.

“Any time we can create technology products that users can adopt easily, it makes a difference to our bottom line”

We can see this trend even in large enterprise systems not traditionally known for ease of use. SAP, for example, has been developing Apple Watch apps based on the Hana platform, and their customers have been demanding a better user experience, which SAP has responded to with amazing success. In addition to meeting customer demands, good UX changes the dynamics between technology divisions and their business partners in three immediate ways. First, during design and when the product is rolled out there is reduced friction with the end user community. Users are involved from the beginning through the UX team; their voices were heard, therefore launch was not the first time they could voice an opinion. The tools are built knowing how the user will interact with all aspects of the application. Second, good UX ensures that responsive design is an integral part of product development. In today’s mobile and connected world, it is imperative that applications can be used on both laptops and desktops as well as mobile devices, regardless of screen size. Third, there is a significant effect on training with effective UX. When UX is a factor from the beginning of development, training time and training costs significantly decrease.

When was the last time you took a training class on an Apple product? Loyal Amazon users didn’t watch a video to learn how to use the site. Both of these brands, to name only two familiar ones, were built from the ground up understanding the importance of UX and its impact on intuitive use. Every time a new app is rolled out or functionality is introduced to a product with good UX, an entire training program does not need to be introduced to both internal and external users.

BDP, like many in the logistics industry, has offices and customers around the globe, so reduced time and cost on training is a significant consideration. Any time we can create technology products that users can adopt easily, it makes a difference to our bottom line.

Senior tech leaders should build UX teams with a wide variety of both technology skills and high EQ. The team must encompass design knowledge and a willingness to stay ahead of industry trends, but more important is the ability to listen to and understand the user. UX designers can have great technical skills, but if their minds are not open to the user, they will not be successful in UX. Sometimes these teams can be grown internally; other times strategic hiring is necessary. One thing I have found to be effective is to hire based on passion versus traditional education.

The holy grail of product adoption is to have end users “live” in your application. This is when the user’s day, their calendar, their productivity revolves around what you are supplying them. This happens when UX is driving the product. What is it that differentiates one productivity tool from another in an app store? It is not generally the functionality, but rather how the tool becomes part of the user’s daily life and easily interacts with other apps that users have become immersed in. UX and the ability to keep our end-users and customers in mind at all stages allows us to code for the future. The future is here, and tech leaders must embrace UX to keep our products in our users’ hands.

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