A leading analyst recently said to me, “If enterprises cared about the user experience, SAP and Oracle might not still be in business.” Not to pick on those vendors -- they produce technologies that drive value in the enterprise -- but it’s no secret that the enterprise has lagged far behind the consumer world in terms of the user experience (UX). It’s bad. In enterprises we’re usually asking workers to accomplish tasks that are significantly more complicated than just booking an airline ticket. Arguably, those tasks drive greater revenue -- or cost savings -- than ticket booking for that travel website.

Each of us can chronicle bad experiences with the technology tools we use every day -- and if you’re in the enterprise, your pain may be even more excruciating than consumers. Not only are the experiences worse for you, but they are often ones that you do repetitively, so that pain piles up into long-term frustration and general dread. (Are you familiar with the term “Sunday blues”?)

Why is it so hard for enterprises to get UX right? Enterprise C-level execs are looking at the sexy new revenue or tools, rather than the cost savings of investing in processes and systems that have been in place for a long time. Let’s be honest, new things hold all the promise we can imagine: we know the foibles and shortcomings of our existing tools all too well. And we all experience the, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” syndrome. Technically, Joe Knowledge-Worker is able to do his job, even if he's pulling his hair out and it takes 23 steps and three weeks to do it.

Here’s the problem: When your technology is causing that kind of inefficiency and user frustration, it really is broke. You just haven’t acknowledged it yet. So if you’re inspired by the need to fix productivity in today’s enterprise, where should you start? With the user experience.

Step 1: Question Everything You Think You Know

Some principles of UX design are well understood (Keep It Simple, Stupid; Put like with like; Consistency is paramount) -- but UX goes well beyond that. It may be that you lack depth of understanding of your users. We all tend to make assumptions about users: who they are and what they need to accomplish. You may have even done the research to support your assumptions. If so, is it up to date?

It’s all too tempting to short-cut the user research piece because you think you know it already. Yet when an enterprise takes the time to study users, they are often surprised at what they uncover. Sometimes a small group in IT is making decisions on behalf of a group of, say, sales people on the other side of the country, about whom they know nothing.

Step 2: Don’t Guess, Ask

IT groups are often perfectly capable of making initial platform decisions, with a little input from business owners. Yet the users can and should drive decisions about what content is available, where it lives, and how it should be organized. They are in fact the experts in what they do daily.

What’s great is that when you do involve them in the decision making, you gain an even more valuable benefit: buy-in. When users feel they have been part of the decisions, they will be much more likely to embrace the results. That will help you with adoption in the long run, not to mention increasing your return on investment.

Step 3: Understand What You’ve Learned

You've questioned your assumptions, and asked lots of input from those who care -- next you need to flesh out your understanding. In a full UX design process, this means creating materials that help you understand your needs and scoping out a plan. My team generates personas, scenarios, use cases and storyboards, just to name a few types of deliverables.

Not every solution requires every UX research deliverable. For example, in some cases we will generate hassle maps in places where there is a need to identify roadblocks to adoption or productivity, but this isn't needed for every solution. The process of researching, creating, sharing and discussing these documents creates a full view so that the goal is clear, and the solution is grounded in the needs of those users.

Step 4: Build the Case with ROI Data

This topic has been coming up a lot lately: if you live and breathe a particular technology, it may seem obvious to you that making it easier to use will drive efficiency and cost savings. However, building the case for the return on the investment is a crucial step to succeeding in the enterprise. Not only will it help you further develop and understand your needs and expectations for any future solution, but it will also help you gain buy-in from executives. Most important, once you’ve received the go-ahead on the project, you will have laid the groundwork (read: baselines) so that it is simple to chart your progress against your key performance indicators. That means a better performance review for you.

The Cost of Doing Nothing

Creating a great user experience is about solving user pain and driving efficiency in the enterprise. But even if you could care less about your users, there’s still a good reason why you should pay attention to UX starting right now: the rule of thumb is, every $1 that is misspent up front in the design phase costs $10 to correct in the development phase and $100 to fix after the project has gone live. Or to put it more simply, here’s my favorite quote from Dr. Ralf Speth, CEO of Jaguar: “If you think good design is expensive, you should look at the cost of bad design.”

What are you doing (or wish you were doing) to invest in good UX design in your technologies? As you’ve probably heard before: “A goal without a timeline is a dream.”