As someone who considers himself more of a business user and analyst than a developer or technologist -- despite some close revenge of the nerd personal run-ins from time-to-time -- I’ll confess that I sometimes get more excited than I should about how an application feels vs. all the features and the underlying architecture under the surface. But in my now eleventh year of looking at Spend Management technology and user adoption, I’ve got to say that the overall user experience a solution delivers -- as measured by both savings and overall adoption -- relative to its absolute functional capabilities, seems to matter most in the majority of circumstances. Now, granted there are exceptions to this (especially in such areas as spend analysis, optimization, the non-user side of P2P, etc.). But in general, frontline applications that beg to be used and require limited or no training are those most likely to deliver the best returns. For this reason, when applications with somewhat challenging interfaces for the non-technically inclined succeed, it’s an even greater indication of the underlying strength and value of the overall tool.
Consider the case of Emptoris, which by all accounts has always had a somewhat challenging interface in the spend analysis and sourcing areas for the uninitiated. It took its cues more from SAP than from any Web 2.0 provider. Yet Emptoris still managed to build traction over the years thanks to the underlying power of the applications. IQNavigator was in a similar boat until last week. Built on a rock-solid SaaS architecture, IQN’s application nonetheless still looked more like a traditional enterprise application that assumed at least some degree of user familiarity, context and training before unlocking many of its capabilities. Yet given the recent announcement of IQN10, the services spend provider’s latest release, it looks like things might be changing, at least for new customers.
To wit, IQN10 includes a new user experience that in the provider’s words, “addresses complexity” within the application. From the screen shots I’ve seen -- I plan to look at a demonstration in the coming weeks -- it appears that IQNavigator really has come much closer to UI parity with Fieldglass by providing users with a clearer view of where they are and what they can do at any point in navigation experience. Call it a services procurement UI for dummies, but in my view, IQN has needed this for quite some time, based on the feedback I've gotten from customers, prospects and MSPs in the market. In this latest version, specific UI enhancements include “making the next action and steps very obvious through graphical representations, removing menus [that are unnecessary at a given point], and [making the tool generally more] process oriented.” In addition, IQN10 takes advantage of an updated layout and color scheme and provides a user experience for the non-everyday user that generally makes it more user friendly even for those with limited past exposure and training.
At any point in the process of navigating around IQN10, users can now easily see where they are in the process as well as what their next steps will be based on recent activities. Mouseovers provide summaries of information and users can jot down commentary and enter a simple asynchronous ad-hoc collaboration environment to leave notes for -- and ask questions of -- their colleagues (this capability existed before, yet now provides a full record of discussions vs. just individual comments). Reporting, which was always an IQN strong suit yet definitely a non power-user graphical weak point in the past, gets a new user-friendly dumbed-down view for casual and executive users alike. Configuration of data, charts and graphs also appears easier than before.
In short, IQN’s new navigation experience and UI will give the provider no technical or visual excuses for coming up short in deals. As the services procurement marketplace matures and moves beyond innovators and early adopters driving sales and contingent volume, this type of technical UI evolution is essential for IQN and others (e.g., Emptoris’ services procurement solution) to make. While some may argue eye candy is just eye candy, I suspect these new visual and navigation features will go a long way to helping IQNavigator win in situations where prospects historically gravitated to other solutions because they were intimidated by a powerful yet complicated interface. And it very well may take away one of the advantages that Fieldglass often had when the two providers went up against each other in the past (which has been less than you might expect for two best-of-breed leaders in a market).
IQN’s new UI was officially launched as part of IQN10 the first week in November. However, the initial rollout is focused on new customers and prospects and in IQN’s words, “existing customers” will not be impacted at this time. Stay tuned for further analysis of IQN10 as well as the latest solution news from Fieldglass later this week and next.