Episode 23 Decoding the need for Enterprise UX

In this edition of Thoughtcast by Onething, Co-Founder & Design Director Manik is joined by UX Lead Venky, as they sit down to discuss one of the sleeper-gems of the design industry, enterprise UX design. The conversation opens with defining enterprise UX, and its unique space nestled somewhere between the worlds of B2B and B2C. The discussion then shifts to illustrating the importance of enterprise UX through an example; Crisil! Venky breaks down how unifying Crisil’s 14 internal platforms was a unique experience, and gave a brilliant window into the vast world of enterprise UX. Furthermore, Manik goes on to discuss the importance of enterprises to build custom solutions that are tailored to the needs of all operations, even considering building a product to be used by Team Onething internally! Don’t miss out on one of the cornerstones of UX design in enterprise UX, on the latest episode of Thoughtcast by Onething!

Episode Transcript

[Manik]
The process that you would choose to design a B2C product compared to what you would choose for an enterprise is completely different.

[Venky]
Our research phase was wild man.

[Manik]
Where and what exactly is the problem that’s our job to figure out.

[Venky]
Because what we have done essentially is reduce lag time across 14 different verticals.

[Manik]
It brings in a completely different set of challenges I think.

[Manik]
Hi guys, welcome to another episode of Thoughtcast by Onething. It’s an interesting topic today that we have, generally ignored by designers and generally not so important for clients as well. That is why we are gonna talk about this. Why is it so important? We are gonna talk about enterprise UX today.

I have Venky with me who has an experience of working with I don’t know how many of the enterprise UX clients we have worked with at Onething.

Great.

So, hi Venky.

[Venky]
Hi. Hello. Hi.

[Manik]
What do you think about like enterprise UX? What is it?

[Venky]
I think it’s very important to define that first because it gets mixed up with a lot of B2B SaaS products.

[Manik]
Yeah.

[Venky]
And it’s not that.

[Manik]
Yeah, it’s exactly not that.

[Venky]
Yeah. Enterprise UX product is anything, any specialized tool or product used by a large scale organization for their employees at work. So it discounts things like your HR platforms like Keka.

[Manik]
It’s not a white labeled product.

[Venky]
It’s not a white label product, or even we were discussing this earlier, and the example you brought up like Slack. Slack is not an enterprise product. That is very much not an enterprise product like that’s the exact other end of that.

[Manik]
In fact, it’s used by enterprises but it would not qualify under enterprise UX as a category is what I think.

[Venky]
Exactly. And in fact, enterprise products are probably products you’ve never heard of because those are the specialized tools that are the backbone of certain organizations or cogs in the wheel of certain organizations.

[Manik]
Yeah. Most times I think they wouldn’t even have a name to themselves.

[Venky]
Exactly. They don’t have a name, like the one that we build for Crisil, for example, but in managing their leads, what they call leads, right? Yeah, that doesn’t really have a name as such, you know, like we, in fact, I think that was an interesting product to work on because there was no baseline to it, you know? I think that’s why I like building these because, they’re a different kind of challenge.

[Manik]
A completely different set of challenges I would say.

[Venky]
Yeah. Yeah. You don’t really see these challenges out in the wild anywhere. You could have built a hundred different types of products across various industries, but this one specifically will throw you for a loop.

So what we were doing for Crisil? If you remember, we were trying to streamline 14 different tools that they use internally and trying to bring it into one tool.

[Manik]
Exactly. 14 different verticals, using 14 different products. And now we are using one product. Imagine the kind of challenge that is.

[Venky]
So that is enterprise UX, you know, like trying to build a tool that solves a very specialized purpose for an organization. Right. And, it’s usually for like large scale, like I said, Crisil, like, you know, thousands of people across the world.

[Manik]
I think most people like businesses when go for designing or investing in a product, they go for a B2C or a B2B product from which they’re gonna earn directly.

But Enterprise UX on the other hand is generally ignored. It sits at the last place, I don’t know why? It shouldn’t actually, even though it’s not gonna come bring in the direct benefit, direct profits, but indirectly, if you think about it, like employees using it, getting better experience at it and becoming more efficient in doing their day to day tasks, it’s even more useful is what I think. I mean, it should come even before that.

[Venky]
Absolutely. The problem with the, you know, firstly obviously, like I said, these are specialized tools and they solve one very specific purpose within the organization.

However, like you said, people try and get like white label solutions. But that’s not gonna really work in the long term because what you are doing is specialized to your organization, right. Maybe what you are doing, nobody else is doing. What Crisil is doing for example, ratings.

A handful of companies do that and Crisil is the market leader by a long shot. So, what they have to do is very specific to their industry, which is a specialized industry to begin with. Let’s look at it that way. And then, you know, having to build something from the ground up for an audience like that, I mean, let’s talk about the challenges there right? We had to talk to 14 different verticals.

[Manik]
Understanding their expectations.

[Venky]
Yeah. And what we try and do for example is, as you obviously know, we try and get at least seven users for our user interviews research. But now imagine trying to do that across 14 verticals, our research phase was wild, man.

You know, like trying to understand and the challenge was not just what we were trying to build, the challenge was the fact that we had to understand it first. We had no idea. We had no idea. We got an onboarding that lasted about like, you know, 2-3 days following which each vertical had to onboard us, right? Make us understand what they do and after that we had to come up with the questions.

[Manik]
Yeah. And now look at it, like it’s been almost a year since that product was delivered. Right? And now, today, in the last one year, it has become so easy for them to manage communication across verticals for the leadership to see what is going on across verticals and for their tech team to maintain one product now.

If this is not benefit enough to invest and design, what is?

[Venky]
Exactly, because what we’ve done essentially is reduce lag time across 14 different verticals for lead to enter from one side and then exit through the other processed. We’ve reduced that time exponentially.

Not just that. Like you said, the tech team doesn’t have to worry about one something in the chain of command going down. Now they have to just worry about one tool, one product and they just have to maintain that. So we’ve essentially reduced, you know, problems in that area as well.

And I think what we’ve done to a certain degree, and this came up during our user interviews with Crisil as well is I think we’ve reduced problems per employee. I don’t wanna say we’ve reduced iteration because we don’t really have that data.

[Manik]
But I’m sure we would have, we would have.

[Venky]
Like that is an entire effect because what we figured was that people coming into the organization fresh-faced, the organization themselves had to give them about like a month’s worth of onboarding to understand the chain of different tools because there were 14 tools across verticals. But like at any given point, 1 person had to work on 3 different tools.

[Manik]
That’s a very interesting point. I mean, all these big companies using whatever tools they use for years, right? They have set up a training process to teach people how to use these tools instead of redesigning these tools. So that is intuitive already for somebody who’s joining in.

[Venky]
Absolutely. Because if you think about it, that’s 14 different types of onboarding you have to give because they went for 14 white label tools, they have multiple different types of onboarding. And if one person has to use 3, that’s onboarding 3X. Not to mention the fact, they still have to get used to it. 3-4 months of at least, you know, trying to wrap their heads around it and that’s I think one of the main complaints that came up is the fact that they took a lot of time to really understand what was going on.

And, I mean, that’s a loss, that’s a loss to you as an organization, because if someone is effectively giving you out of the 8 hours they are working, if they’re effectively giving you six hours. And they’re going to spend about 2-3 hours of the that to kind of figure out what’s happening, and like another hour getting frustrated and an hour for lunch, you were not really doing much as an organization.

So that is why I think it’s very important to invest in something that works for you specifically as an enterprise.

And I think we’ve seen that with Crisil and for that matter with Comviva, what you said about leadership tools. I think that was a very good point. That’s what we built for Comviva.

[Manik]
Yeah, that’s exactly what we solved for Comviva. The leadership had to look at 10 different tools, talk to 10 different leaders of 10 different verticals to understand what is happening in the company.

Imagine how much time, how much money is getting wasted in this.

[Venky]
Yeah. And, you know, coming back to the fact that what we are trying to solve for is, not just, you know, trying to streamline work or anything. It’s more than that. It’s trying to, firstly, you know, undo a lot of the clutter that comes with using multiple different platforms, trying to, you know, understand all of that. It, and the challenges that involve understanding specialized tools, because they don’t wanna teach you this tool in college. Let’s be honest.

[Manik]
Right. I mean, college is a completely different scenario is what I think.

[Venky]
Yeah. Well, I know your thoughts on college, but yeah, my point is that, you know, you don’t come with this knowledge, like you sort of have to learn it as you go. And, I think as an organization, that’s a loss for you and therein lies your ROI for you as an organization, that if you’ve built a tool that works across platforms across verticals, you’re essentially, you know, reducing the upfront load of trying to onboard someone.

And maybe at the other end trying to reduce iteration because the frustration level goes down. Right. Because these are specialized users that we’re building for.

[Manik]
And I think it’s not just the big companies like Crisil and Mahindra Comviva. Right. It’s also people like us, Onething.

Imagine like from being a very small team, which used to use WhatsApp to start with, and then Slack and then Basecamp, we’ve tried hundreds of products. Keka for HR, like plugging in the gaps, right? But now if I think, I mean, we should build our own tool, which suffices all of our reads. Imagine how much would it solve for us?

[Venky]
Yeah, absolutely. Because there is a lot of lag when it comes to going from tool to tool, platform to platform, to do different tasks. Because there is that time of settling in there is that possibility that the person who’s working on that is going to get distracted while shifting through these different tools. Like how much time does it take for you to, you know, like if, for example, if I’m on Figma and then I have to go to Basecamp, there is definitely a lag there for me because I’m probably going to stop on the way to look at my Instagram.

[Manik]
Which is why Figma is kind of making sure you don’t leave the platform.

[Venky]
Exactly.

What enterprises have to understand is that yes, there is an upfront cost and an upfront time to build, but the long term effects of this is unbelievable. Like we’ve seen it. Like Comviva came back to us and told us how that worked for them. You know, Crisil has told us how it’s worked for them. So clearly there is something to be said about building specialized tools for just your internal purposes, right? Because you are essentially making sure that the back end is running smoothly and only if that works, can everyone else do their jobs, right?

[Manik]
I mean, yeah, that’s the base of everything to start with. But if you look at it from designers’ perspective now for a moment, now in college, or if I ask an intern to let’s say design something for their own portfolio, they would most likely pick a B2C product. Enterprise products, nobody ever thinks of learning what are the challenges there or learning what the difference between designing an enterprise product would be compared to a B2C product, hardly taught in colleges.

So how can we change this thing? Like how can we make enterprise UX, like, as cool as B2C product? I mean, even though it is cooler already,  just that, I don’t know why people don’t realize.

[Venky]
Because I think, firstly, you know, with the word enterprise, it just brings to mind a white collar, stiff, working in a, you know, block and things like that. But I kind of feel like you’re right. Like, you know, that’s the first thing I began with, I really love the challenges that building this brings as a designer.

As a designer, what is it like? You have to build certain specific solutions. And the reason people go for B2C is that these solutions exist. They have to iterate. Nobody wants to build from the ground up. And that’s what this gives you, provides you an opportunity to learn how problem solving works from the ground up, right?

[Manik]
Yeah. And it brings in a completely different set of challenges, I think. I mean, the process that you would choose to design a B2C product compared to what you would choose for an enterprise is completely different. Even starting from the requirement, gathering to the final, let’s say interaction design, everything would be different in an enterprise ux. Completely different set of challenges.

[Venky]
Yeah. And it’s the second thing, the reason that people probably don’t really go for this is the problem itself. Like having to learn about the way Crisil goes about its work or Comviva does what it does, Mahindra Comviva. It’s daunting as a designer. You go in blind and I think people don’t really like doing that because they want to come out on top, whatever they try to do. But as designers, you should not be afraid of going in blind. That’s literally your job, you know? Making sure that the fog is lifted from whatever problem is there. Matlab pehle toh hai you have to lift that fog to see that problem, and then you have to approach it and then like, but that’s the design thinking process.

[Manik]
It’s not a very clearly defined problem in an enterprise UX scenario is what I think. I mean, as a designer, you may get a client where they’ll say, this is the product we’ve been using for 10 years now. We want to redesign it because it’s not efficient enough where, and what exactly is the problem that’s our job to figure out. You interview people across verticals, meet them, understand what the problems are. And then again, I mean, these are not like the regular users. These are employees of that company. What they would say will not be direct problems or may or may not be direct problems. You’ll have to kind of dig deeper into what the problem is into what, from what they say.

[Venky]
Yeah. But if you don’t find that cool, you are probably in the wrong job, like that’s the whole point. Initial set of user interviews for Crisil, we had problems that were not really designed related. There were things like, “yeh bohot slow chalta hai”. Like I can’t really solve for that. You know, I can’t really make it go faster.

[Manik]
But, that can become a very important constraint.

[Venky]
Exactly the fact that, you know, like it’s going slow probably. Yes. It probably lies with the development of it or whatever the tool is, and that’s just how it works. But then you kind of start putting two and two together. You go like, okay, maybe it’s going slow because it is trying to display too much data at the same time. And that is actually what it came down to, if you remember.

[Manik]
Yeah, We cannot blame developers for everything else. A lot, a lot of these things be designed without thinking of exactly how they will be implemented. And now I know that how it’s gonna be implemented. I can make sure that whatever we are designing is quick enough, can be made quick enough.

[Venky]
And the other problem that they told us was, I usually can’t find what I’m looking for. Like I’ve been using this tool for six years, I still have a problem trying to find what I’m looking for.

And then you realize that there are some basic things here that are lacking. Like, I remember, I think Comviva’s platform if I’m not mistaken, did not have your breadcrumbs and that’s a design problem. Like you can call it an enterprise tool, specialized UX, whatever you wanna call it, but the problems are the same.

[Manik]
But this user is not gonna tell you that there are no breadcrumbs.

[Venky]
Yeah, exactly. You have to figure out that. And I think therein lies the problem. The fact that these answers that you get, you are not able to decipher. Because for a tool like Crisil, firstly, you’re looking at like so many tables and so many different tabs within the tables and you’re trying to figure out what’s happening in that screen. So, you know, for a tool like Crisil, you know, what happens is you tend to get lost in the source order. You go like I’m seeing so many tables, so many tabs that don’t make any sense and I don’t know how they function, what this, even after talking to the users, we didn’t know.

But what you have to remember as a designer is the fact that the code doesn’t change. If you’re building a table, you need certain essential functions. You need the title, title tab, how do you place those rows? How do you place those actions? If there are other actions, like, edit, delete whatever, where do they come? At the end of the day you are building what you already know. It’s only a matter of guiding the product in a way where it does a specialized function. But all the other parts that make up this whole product, they remain the same.

[Manik]
You said it very right. Like there are mostly tables and numbers and a heavy-looking interface or maybe graphs at most.

Still, I mean, aesthetics in that product have been ignored for so long now. Even though this is the place where it becomes even more important, right? On a page where there are only five things made for a customer to make it look simple, easier to make it look aesthetically beautiful, when you have a plethora of data on a page, making that look beautiful, that is a challenge for designers.

[Venky]
And I think that is why people don’t really go for it. First, the companies know how difficult it is going to be to explain what they are doing to someone who like forget like the same companies is not even from the same industry.

So they know the challenge that lies behind that, but what they have to understand is that they make that initial push, it’s a long term investment for them. And what designers have to understand is that it’ll give you perspective about your own skills as a designer. Because I dunno if you remember, we were discussing like how, you know, we give design challenges, to people we are hiring and for that matter on portfolios, people, you know, redesign Spotify and all of that. And I just randomly said to you, “ki Spotify toh har koi karta hai, Microsoft word redesign karke dikhao mujhe.”

That’s the challenge it’s literally like that.

[Manik]
Let’s do that.

[Venky]
We should though.

But what you’re essentially trying to do is you are trying to shake up an established tool or an established product not even called a tool.

It’s established, it is the leader in what it does only because nobody tried to do it differently. That is where you come in as a designer. Everybody talks about disrupt, I mean, like that word means nothing to me. Now, if you want to disrupt, you go to a Crisil, you go to a Comviva, you go look at their internal products which they were using before we got our hands dirty with it. And you try and look at how you can make lives easier there, and therein lies your challenge. And if you look at enterprise UX as like this robotic entity which you have to fix, that’s not gonna work for you. You are doing it for people.

[Manik]
It’s not something which you can just fix on your screen. It’s exactly in Figma, whatever you use. I mean, I think enterprise UX is a category which requires so much more time before you actually start into your screens. Imagine something, us designers who don’t who hardly even know how to file your own ITR. Building a financial product wiith so many numbers for Crisil, it took us, I think almost two months to first understand it yeh hai kya aur yeh karta kya hai. And that is, I think the challenge and the hurdle, because of which most designers don’t get into it.

[Venky]
Because you know that as a designer, you will really have to step out of your comfort zone. And it’s not a product that you can just make look pretty. Like that’s not gonna solve it.

Although we did do that as well. We didn’t keep that aside, like you said, like these established tools, they just looked like, what do you call it jo yeh Mac system ke OS wala hota hai an?

It used to look like that, but we made it pretty and function. And at the end of the day, everyone’s happy using it. And that’s exactly what you need. You need to go in with a conviction that not only am I going to make this work, I’m gonna make it work to a point where people are happy to use it and happy to open it because it looks good as well.

And it looks damn good by the way. Like we put illustrations into a financial tool. Like I, I think that alone speaks to the amount of conviction we have in trying to rebuild an established set of principles in an organization.

[Manik]
So I think, for clients, what I think based on whatever experience we have had at Onething and before, it shouldn’t be taken as the last thing to invest in. It should be the first thing in fact.  Enable your employees with all the tools they need to make something better for your customers, which will result into direct profits.

[Venky]
Absolutely. I think you said it right, if from the client’s perspective, from the organization’s perspective, sorry, you are building this so that you make the lives of your employees easy and yours for that way. You know, be it from the top down or from the bottom up, if you can really use what you’ve built and if you’ve built it two specifications, your life is definitely getting easier. And as designers, we shouldn’t shy away from projects like this.

[Manik]
I think we should take it as a challenge.

[Venky]
Yeah. Make it look cool. Like I said, it’s an enterprise product and we put illustrations in it. Nobody sets it to us.

[Manik]
And one takeaway from this discussion. I’m definitely gonna have an assignment for senior designers, especially, we’re gonna have an assignment which involves an enterprise UX design.

[Venky]
Absolutely. I think that’ll be a lot of fun to do.

[Manik]
For most people who are gonna join us.

Thank you so much for listening in guys. We’ll be coming up with more insightful and interesting topics in this season of Thoughtcast by Onething.

Subscribe to Spotify and YouTube. Keep watching, keep listening.

Thank you.

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