Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Interfaces for humans

This week I'm on training for IBM's Tivoli Storage Manager. For those that don't know, it's 'enterprise' backup software. And we all know what enterprise means - high price tag and steep learning curve. But sometimes, you just want something to work with a little less pain.

To be fair, Tivoli does what it says on the tin. It's a powerful, flexible, backup application that's been around for about fifteen years, long before Windows and point and click wizards. I used it about seven years ago in a limited fashion and I though it was decent. But this time around I'm getting my hand really filthy with backup policies, management classes, off-site rotation and all that lovely stuff. But I lie - it's not lovely. If Tivoli was a woman, she'd be high maintenance. You'd have to work to keep her happy, learn her moods and quirks and faults. And if you mess up, you'll be sleeping on the sofa. At your mate's house.

Too much software is like this, lots of power, not enough design. Many companies get it right, but a lot get it wrong. For end users like myself, interfaces are crucial to getting the most out of software. Time is in short supply and if you're spending too much time learning how to do something, you have even less time to think about what you're doing. Products are often created by engineers for engineers, which is perfectly understandable. But (most) of us are still human beings, and need software that works for them instead of the other way around. Software that's easy to use cost less to deploy and operate. And sells more. Line managers might sign the POs but engineers have a big say in what's on the PO. And given the choice, I won't sign up for unnecessary pain.

So, 'enterprise solution providers' - for this relationship to work you've got to help us out. We need your tools and you need our company's money. So why not make it easy on everyone and make interfaces for humans?

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