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Are you being served?

by Davin Wilfrid

July 8, 2011

By Davin Wilfrid, insiderRESEARCH

After graduating from college many years ago, I did the sensible thing and moved to Colorado so I could go skiing as much as possible. To pay the rent, I took a job waiting tables at a Tex-Mex restaurant near the base of Keystone mountain. 

It was in this job that I learned a fundamental business lesson that many software vendors should keep close to their hearts. 

"Good service can make up for bad food," the restaurant owner would say. "But good food can't make up for bad service."

In other words, the total customer experience is influenced more by the quality of service (are they greeted immediately? are their water glasses filled quickly? are obscure menu items explained clearly? are the drinks, appetizers, and entrees served in a timely manner?) than by the quality of the product.

Technology is no different, and software vendors have to adjust to increasingly high customer standards for usability. End users who use smartphones to check email, tweet, post pictures on Facebook, and play two levels of Angry Birds while waiting for their laptops to boot up will get frustrated quickly after logging on to an application that confuses them or obstructs their ability to get a task accomplished right away.

Blame Apple, I guess.

SAP consultant Jarret Pazahanick alluded to this notion in his recent post on the emergence of Workday as a threat to SAP:

"With the luxury of building from scratch they have focused on a modern design, usability, strong analytics and mobile applications all of which are important for today’s businesses customers."

I think the value of a swift, seamless, and responsive user experience is the secret weapon that SaaS providers can use to club the big on-premise players. If these cloud-based providers (who have the advantage of being able to innovate and deploy UX improvements overnight) can offer a far better end-user experience, it won't matter if they still get beaten -- even mightily -- on the spec sheet. 

To its credit, SAP has taken some bold strides in this arena. The latest versions of its GRC and BI (BusinessObjects) applications present a far more advanced interface that allow users to get more done with fewer clicks. Even some of the buttons have been renamed to reduce confusion. 

In the big picture, SAP will enjoy a technological advantage over all pure SaaS vendors for the foreseeable future. I hope they continue to see the value in confronting them on the UX front as well.  

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