Jonathan Arnowitz, Elizabeth Dykstra-Erickson
We find it very interesting that new players in the HCI world are beginning to show up. SAP became a championship sponsor for CHI2004. PeopleSoft employees are regularly showing up in CHI committees. Business software companies are showing up in increasing numbers at CHI-sponsored events. This is not just a sign of companies flush with cash spending their money; we think it reflects business leaders' increasing awareness of user-experience issues in the area of Big Business Software.
The trend started as recently as 2001, when the software market experienced a visible change of mind: Well past the Internet bubble, more and more software companies had to prove their return on investment (ROI) as budgets and economies tightened up worldwide. Fortunately for us, the software-development industry heralded usability as a possible leading ROI factor.
More recently, as business software giants compete, two interesting things happen: They listen to their customers and stuff more and more features into their systems, and the increase in features causes user interaction to become (usually) more complex. True differentiation between product offerings disappears and customer-centered initiatives become a selling point, creating a contrapuntal weave of usability and complexity. And consequently we are pleased to see more opportunities for HCI professionals to hone our craft.
How do you recognize that there are new ideas out there? Do an acronym review: TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) or TOE (Total Ownership Experience). TCO formerly referred to the entire cost of using a computer. Now TCO, TOE, and other acronyms are being refashioned to expand the idea of direct and indirect costs of a computer system to include the ease of installation and maintenance, training costs, end user efficiency, and on and on.
This has caused a spike in hiring among business software companies. SAP, Oracle, PeopleSoft, Salesforce.com, and Intuit are among the many business software companies that have been hiring HCI professionals this past year alone.
This new-found interest in user experience/usability isn't necessarily a smooth ride. The transition of these companies from a traditionally engineering-driven focus to a more user-centered focus remains a struggle. We can't claim a real success, yet. But we like what we see!
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