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ROI of UI Technology

Posted by pbrittan on October 14, 2003 at 6:29 AM PDT

I recently wrote a paper for The SAP Developer Network on user interface technology in the enterprise. I'd like to pull out one small section of that paper for further discussion here:

There are three main factors that affect the ROI of any UI technology: ease of use of the application, ease of deployment and on-going maintenance, and ease of initial development. Based on the total cost associated with each of those factors, they should be assigned the following order of priority:

  1. Ease of Use: The usability of an application affects the bottom line of a company every day and that effect is multiplied by the number of users the application has.

  2. Ease of Deployment and Maintenance: The costs associated with the deployment and maintenance of applications affects a company’s bottom line on an occasional but usually repeated and perhaps regular basis. These costs are incurred whenever an application needs to be deployed to new users, upgraded with new features, and have bugs fixed.

  3. Ease of Initial Development: The costs associated with the initial development of a new application affect the bottom line of a company only once per app, and they scale with the number of developers involved, which for the vast majority of applications is far less than the number of users of the application.

Many companies fall into the trap of prioritizing these factors in precisely the opposite ranking for the simple reason that they encounter them in that reversed order. Since the first task a company has to face is the initial development of the application, most attention is given to minimizing costs associated with that, then on to deployment and maintenance, and finally ease of use is far too often simply an after-thought.

The temptations of the immediate gratification of fast initial development can be so strong, in fact, that some UI development tools focus entirely on the ability to put together a good-looking but simple application really quickly. This is valuable for getting early user feedback. However, many of these rapid development systems are ironically difficult and time-consuming for creating sophisticated applications, because of an inherent lack of flexibility. A good UI technology will enable rapid prototyping but won’t do so at the expense of production version development.

Therefore it is imperative that companies apply sufficient discipline in their technology selection and implementation to ensure that an economically correct ordering of priorities is followed.

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