How Enterprise Software Scores Through Increased Usability and Flexibility
01 Apr 2020 - Technology, Energy, Logistics, Production
High usability is only one of many requirements for good business software. It is a big challenge to provide the full functionality of a system and at the same time offer an engaging user interface. In an interview, Dr. Michael Bartmann, Head of Central Development at PSI Software AG, explains how companies can use PSI Click Design to design and optimize their user interfaces more flexibly.
When it comes to application software, a user interface that is easy to understand, intuitive and efficient plays just as important a role as having a wide range of complex functions. Whether or not a customer responds positively to a software often depends on usability and a good user experience.
High Usability and User Experience as a Success Factor
Usability describes the degree to which a system is adapted to the user's needs. The easier a software enables the user to achieve their goals, the better the usability and the more likely the customer is to be satisfied in the long term. The user experience, however, is superior to usability.
It describes the subjective overall experience, comprising usability, functional processes, design and interaction patterns, and relates not only the direct use of software, but also to the general perception of the company. This again is a decisive factor when it comes to differentiation from the competition and the likelihood of satisfied customers recommending the software.
The private use of intuitive touch devices, which require very little explanation, inevitably means that users have similar expectations for business software.
In an interview, Dr. Michael Bartmann explains the increasing need for intuitive and customizable user interfaces. He highlights the importance of optimal process operations and explains how users of PSI software can save both resources and costs.
Why are efficient processes so important, especially for energy and utilities companies?
In addition to fail-safe software systems, industrial and utility companies are also concerned with cost structure and cost-effectiveness. Non-functioning processes lead to additional costs and weaken the company's competitive position. In this context, efficient process operations are absolutely essential. Every single operation must be as cost-effective and efficient as possible. At the same time, laborious special operations must be avoided and fast and efficient processes must be made possible in exceptional cases.
“Customizability and flexibility are key factors when it comes to long-term investment security.”
This also increases the demand for functions such as PSI Click Design. This gives employees more flexibility in the design of their working environment and enables them to work more efficiently. This in turn has a positive effect on the optimization of process operations. The need for high process coverage is very high, as software that works very well in 90 percent of cases but inefficiently for the remaining 10 percent, for example, is not useful overall.
What needs to be considered when purchasing new complex systems?
Old systems often struggle to cover new applications. The systems used represent huge investments that cannot simply be replaced. In some cases this may happen, but generally companies will work with a system for a long time.
At the time of purchase, the company must ask whether it will be possible to adapt the system in the future or, in extreme cases, if expensive updates or even a brand new system may be necessary.
From a consumer perspective, good usability is essential. In the business software market, however, it is only now beginning to increase in importance. Why?
Expert knowledge certainly plays a role here. For a long time, it has been widely accepted that a software that controls a complex and unintuitive system would also have to be complex and unintuitive. What’s more, the development of highly complex systems such as ERP or MES focuses on other decisive criteria.
“Constant changes are taking place in terms of in digitalization, networking and industrial intelligence. There is no longer a place for rigid systems.”
Nowadays, optimum usability can no longer be regarded as a "nice-to-have" feature of a software. On the contrary – with the introduction of smartphones and touch pads, users of highly complex systems experienced the ease of use of common end devices in their everyday lives for the first time and agreed that this technology must also be transferable to more complex systems. This shift in thinking has been a critical step toward developing user-friendly business software. This is why PSI pioneered the Click Design to significantly improve user-friendliness and usability.
The faster the requirements change, the more important it is that the software can adapt quickly and flexibly. What is so special about PSI Click Design?
A small adjustment in the system, which used to take several months to complete, now only takes a matter of minutes. Changes to the interface structure of a software no longer have to be carried out by the developer as part of a lengthy process. Users are able to make the necessary adjustments directly at the workplace.
“With PSI Click Design, we bring the adaptability of complex software systems to the user's workplace in a simple format.”
From more complex changes to the interface structure to the simple placement of buttons and fields or the creation of forms and tables, users have multiple functions at their disposal. A special feature is the user interface, which is designed to be intuitive to use. It can be easily customized with familiar gestures and functions, similarly to smartphones, touch pads or similar devices. Self-explanatory swiping, clicking or moving allows the customer to work quickly and effectively.
At this point, it is essential to clarify the demarcation of usability and Click Design. While usability is an integral part of a software and is more or less distinctive, Click Design also allows for even greater user-friendliness. It enables, for example, the operation of a dialog to be reduced to that which is essential and important to the user. This allows the user interface to be designed flexibly and according to specific requirements.
What are the specific benefits of PSI Click Design for customers?
For the customer, Click Design represents tangible investment security. In other words, the potential uncertainty associated with product decline is greatly reduced as the customer does not have to worry about poor placement of fields or other elements. Expensive follow-up phases and additional costs due to change requests are largely eliminated.
“I can imagine something today and it’s up and running in the system tomorrow.”
Another advantage is sensitivity to the specific needs and individuality of the customer. Depending on how a project is implemented, all the necessary functions of a software are not always determined from the outset. As a rule, programming is a lengthy and complex process. When a software system is finally delivered to the customer ready to use, specific requirements may have changed. At this point, users ideally know how to "help themselves" and any new requirement specification phases or complex ordering processes can be minimized.
Is PSI ahead of other software companies in comparable industries?
PSI Click Design meets the expectations of a modern market and offers flexibility in an unprecedented way that other companies cannot deliver. It can be easily used in ERP or MES systems as well as in systems such as SCADA, Field Force Management and planning applications.
There are certainly other adaptable systems in similar industries, but in most cases they are tied to development environments and less functional. If it is theoretically possible to configure everything in a system but this is not possible in practice, then the software is not achieving its ultimate goal and, in the worst case, all of the customer’s work will come to a stop.
“PSI combines complex software with extensive process coverage and integrated functionality with adaptability that is otherwise only found in development environments.”
This combination of software technology and industry-specific application knowledge provides flexibility that other companies currently cannot provide. This unique selling point makes us a pioneer. Click Design has become so popular with the customer that its own teams are built with "Click Designers." They are responsible for the configuration of PSI applications and implement specific requirements in daily operation – and this is only increasing. This development reflects the increasing need for adaptable systems and the relevance of this to the entire market.
Are further developments planned regarding usability in PSI Click Design?
There are certainly some forward-looking topics that we are currently working on intensively. In addition to the adaptability of the user interface, we want to go one step further in the future and enable the complete adaptability of an entire process within the framework of "Business Process Engineering." This makes the interlinking of process steps dynamic and the software, which is always ready for use as-is, is additionally divided into optional and flexibly configurable services.
This means that the specific usage can be designed and optimized directly by the user, which again has a positive effect on the subjective overall experience and improves the user experience. We want to make it possible to view the same data from different perspectives or to structure this data as required. At the same time, we want to make the way in which data is processed specifically adaptable.
In the days of mobile devices and tablets, responsive design also plays a key role. It uses numerous automatic processes to ensure that the user interface is optimally adapted to the screen size of the device used. We now want to enable the customer to configure PSI Click Design interfaces themselves while taking advantage of a useful responsive design.
The aim is to coordinate the interaction between these two functions so that automation systems do not interfere with each other but effectively support each other.
What is your opinion on this topic?
Dr. Michael Bartmann
Management Central Development PSI Software AG
Dr. Michael Bartmann began his career in 2001 as Manager of Product Development at PSI Metals Nonferrous GmbH. Since 2011, he has been Head of Central Development at PSI Software AG. With a PhD in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, he is responsible for the design of the joint Java™-based PSI technology platform with representatives of all PSI business units. More than twenty years of practical experience with Java and large software development projects form the basis for his work on the technological and architectural foundations of PSI Software.