The Enterprise User Experience: Bridging the IT/Marketing Divide

November 21, 2005

Within the corporate world, the clash between marketing and IT (Information Technology) teams is a well-known, but little discussed subject. Often, the marketing or corporate communications team owns the vision for online efforts, while the tech team owns their execution.

The stereotype of the suits vs. the geeks is too simple to capture the situation. Still, there’s no doubt the conflict has often boiled down to two polarized positions.

On the one hand, we have marketers who feel that technologists don’t understand the value of brand communication; on the other, technologists who feel that marketers don’t understand the practical and architectural implications of technology decisions.

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In a very real sense, this divide prevents the enterprise from bringing all available expertise to bear on decisions that affect user experience. Marketers must often sit on the sidelines, reduced to the role of policing the visual design of an online presence.

Meanwhile, technologists and software engineers must make decisions without the user insights that a stronger partnership with marketing might provide. The success of the enterprise depends on these worlds coming together, yet often conflicts drive them further apart.

One of the great barriers to bridging this gap has been the absence of a common language between marketing and technology professionals. Chief marketing officers speak of brand value, multi-channel marketing initiatives, demographics, and target markets. CIOs and CTOs speak of enterprise architecture, platforms, extensibility, scalability, and integration.

Goodbye, GUI—Hello, UX

At one time, the concept of the Graphic User Interface (GUI) held great promise in connecting marketing to technology, and there was much talk of the importance of user friendliness. Yet over time, the term GUI has lost its meaning, devolving to technological window dressing—just an aesthetic veneer without much substance. Somehow, the user at the center of this concept began to vanish from the picture, in favor the graphics and the interface.

Thankfully, the ideas and practices of enterprise UX design are gaining mindshare, succeeding where the GUI paradigm failed, and creating a shared tech-marketing domain. Companies are beginning to realize that UX professionals bring positive solutions to the table. Today, we see savvy technologists and marketers starting to embrace the enterprise UX concept because both camps stand to gain much in doing so.

User experience is a deliberately broader concept than GUI. It may take some time for user experience to fully penetrate the product design and development world. But it’s the right term to help create an approach to product design and development that incorporates the way people really perceive design, use products, and make decisions.

The term user experience communicates the reality that the success of a digital product doesn’t end with its technology or the design of its user interface. It must extend all the way to users’ perception of that design and their experience of interacting with it.

Before a product ever comes to market, we must involve users in a feedback loop throughout the cycles of product design and development to make sure that the technology reaches its target audience and that the design theory aligns with user reality.

“The Street finds its own uses for things—uses the manufacturers never imagined,” wrote William Gibson, in his essay, “Rocket Radio.” And this, of course, is true. One of the biggest design challenges is accurately predicting the perceptions and usage patterns of future users. A new product can fall quickly into disuse, because the street finds it insufficiently innovative, useful, usable, or engaging.

This user judgment day occurs not only for consumer products, but also, in the case of enterprise UX, for internal products as well. For example, employees may fail to embrace a new intranet, extranet, or business application, because it doesn’t really connect with the way they do their jobs. The UX approach moves product concepts through iterative cycles of progressive optimization by letting real live users road test more and more refined models of a product. By involving users in the product design process, UX professionals bring to their teams the benefits of foresight and insight into “the street” before a product even rolls out.

Enterprise UX design can have a positive impact on all aspects of a company’s business, from their customer-facing Web sites to their digital products to their internal Web applications and communications platforms. And UX professionals have developed a toolkit for visualizing and enhancing business processes in a way that both marketers and technologists can appreciate and embrace.

A Tech-Marketing Toolkit

Enterprise UX design operates between the marketing and technology worlds, creating practical tech-marketing deliverables that the enterprise can plan, map, prototype, test, refine, develop, and finally roll out to internal and external end users with great success.

For CTOs and CIOs, enterprise UX design offers

  • a way to prioritize competing projects and finite resources in light of business strategy and user needs
  • a practical commitment to building technology that works for users
  • a chance to discover and prevent usability problems before incurring major development costs—or at least, before a project requires major retrenchment
  • an approach that can keep developers focused on real-world use cases and prevent their getting lost in endless preliminary work, building tools to build tools

For Chief Marketing Officers and brand advocates, enterprise UX design offers

  • input into business-based technology decisions
  • a practical way to translate user input into technology reality
  • a chance to drive the quality of the user experience while still allowing technologists to consider the best deployment path
  • a chance to help technologists succeed in reaching customers, rather than being perceived as impractical or as pie-in-the-sky visionaries.
  • a platform for learning about and humanizing technology

But Who Really Owns Enterprise UX?

As the term user experience rises to prominence, there is much debate, and even naval-gazing, about the category of professionals within an enterprise who should own the user experience. Is it designers? Usability professionals? Information architects? Ironically, the term user experience is meant to unify an excessively subdivided digital product infrastructure and culture.

But a variation of this debate is dawning within the culture of the real owners of user experience—the businesses that fund the creation of UX strategies for their operations and UX designs for their products. Clearly, UX professionals must share ownership of user experience. But what does it say on the organization chart?

In a growing number of cases, corporations are creating new UX positions such as VP, User Experience or User Experience Director. Where this is not the case, it is likely that tech-savvy marketers or marketing-savvy technologists will lead user experience. In any case, enterprise user experience is a cross-discipline practice in a world where old categories are breaking down and agility and dynamism are now taking hold. 

Director of User Experience & Design at Virgin Pulse

Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Bob GoodmanBob Goodman is a Boston-based UX professional whose consulting business offers a unique integrated model of consulting and creative services, including interaction design, information architecture, usability consulting, copywriting, brand building, and business strategy. Before launching his own business, Bob served as creative director at several leading interactive agencies in New England. As a usability consultant, Bob has run hundreds of usability labs. From these intense and sustained interactions with real-world users, he has extracted a unique set of principles and practices surrounding the user experience. At the core is his understanding of the ways in which a successful user experience flows from and undergirds smart business strategy and lasting brand value. Bob is a member of the UPA, IAI, and SIGCHI, and serves as Boston’s Local Ambassador for UXnet. He is a frequent awards show judge and speaker on UX, design, usability, and IA.  Read More

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