Build a strong business case without sacrificing user needs
As many of us know, Product Life Cycle Management (PLM) software contains multiple layers of complex functionality needed to manage all stages of a product’s life cycle. This begs the question of how to design the system in a way that encourages and supports an intuitive user interface and a positive user experience (UX).
In recent years, PLM solutions began to evolve as providers focused on how to improve the systems’ user experience in order to make it more accessible to non-expert users. The benefits of emphasizing a positive user experience include quicker user adoption and loyalty as well as reduced training time and maintenance costs.
Today, building a business case for PLM software no longer requires organizations to choose between usability and depth of functionality. You really can have it all.
Why does and should usability matter in PLM software?
With a single PLM implementation supporting anywhere from a few to thousands of users, organizations must consider the various demands and needs of each unique user profile.
Although PLM systems are data and process driven, they also tie directly into design and the creative innovation process that backs all product development initiatives. As such, system architects must think outside of the form and transaction-based UI approach of a typical enterprise resource planning (ERP) system and consider how to easily incorporate customers’ data and processes into a personalized user experiences.
Senior PLM Consultant Jos Voskuil highlights some of the stark differences between ERP systems and PLM software in his post, “How do you measure collaboration?”
“ERP systems have never been sold to the users for their usability. It is more that the management is looking for guarantees that the execution process is under control. Minimize the potential for errors and try to automate all activities as much as possible. As the production process is directly linked to finance, it is crucial to have it under control. Goodbye usability, safety first. Innovation, Product Development, Sales Engineering, Engineering are all iterative activities. In contrary to ERP, there is no linear process defined how to develop the ultimate product the first time right.”
Users should be able to navigate a PLM system as effectively as the system processes data and facilitates a product’s time to market.
Excel or bust...until now
It is essential for any PLM software to be highly integrated with Microsoft Office and provide a familiar user interaction for first-time users, but this does not need to limit system architects.
In his article, “5 Nos to make PLM usable,” Oleg Shilovitsky opines that developers and designers should steer clear of duplicating Microsoft Office and other familiar software tools when designing for PLM.
“PLM has love and hate relationships with office and email systems. The complimentary between these systems is obvious. PDM/PLM needs to rely on Office and email systems that have wide spread in organizations and huge mainstream adoption. So, integration with these tools is no-brainer decision for PDM/PLM functionality. At the same time, the same tools (Emails, Excel and content management systems) replaced PLM tools for collaboration and other forms of communication in the organization. I believe people are very comfortable with email and office systems. So, not to replace them can make user experience much better.”
Shilovitsky touches on other usability must-haves such as not requiring users to memorize information when navigating the system; maintaining consistency in design and functionality across system modules; and avoiding jargon.
Push; don’t pull
A push notification model operates on the grounds of pushing info to users based on the context of where they are in the system. This is important to consider in a PLM environment where users deal with such significant amounts of data and processes.
This “tell, don’t ask” approach eases the user’s journey through the system by way of placing necessary information and functionalities in front of the user, as opposed to making them hunt for them.
In today’s landscape, we see more PLM architects opting for a push notification model; however, this has not always been the case.
How does Selerant fight the good usability fight?
With more than twenty-five years of experience in PLM software design and development, Selerant understands and integrates excellent user experience into its software evolution.
Selerant’s Chief Technology Officer Jacopo Colombo weighs in on the importance of usability:
“In 2010 we decided to create a team of usability experts and interaction designers to improve the user experience of our DevEX® system with its new version 3 release, and drive any further user interface development. We are today a software that not only has powerful functionalities, but also puts excellent user experience at the core of its offering.”
Following the migration from DevEX® 2 to 3, our customers experienced increased productivity and less user training and support costs.