Power of N: Empowering Users

In the previous post, we described how businesses need to be agile to keep their competitive advantage and drive value. The greatest value being achieved when the software is fully aligned with [...]

In the previous post, we described how businesses need to be agile to keep their competitive advantage and drive value. The greatest value being achieved when the software is fully aligned with the business process, both at the strategic and tactical levels. A central assumption in that value equation is that users are fully productive with the system. Software must empower the users. Any friction can dramatically reduce the value of the system, negating any expected value.


Power of NThe software industry is past the days of early adopters intrigued with the underlying technology living with clunky paradigms and interfaces. No longer do the users adapt to the system. What does it mean to empower users and motivate them to use the software to the fullest extent? The foundation for great business software is supported by three pillars: Usefulness, Goal Alignment, and Cognitive Alignment.

Pillars of Success

  • Usefulness It’s almost too obvious to state. Software should have the features that are required by the user to accomplish their goals. Any missing capabilities detracts from the system’s usefulness, causing the user to perform tasks outside the system or develop workarounds that slows them down. For the Revenue Management process, the core capabilities include pricing, contracting, incentives management, and ad-hoc analysis.
  • Goal Alignment While a Product Owner can define what features are required, that’s just the first step. The system must surface those capabilities in a way that facilitates the user towards their goal. In an effort to minimize development complexity and promote framework consistency, many business applications treat all scenarios similarly, usually fitting them into a “search for then edit document” pigeon-hole. Software can be much smarter by embedding an understanding of the user workflows. For example, a chargeback analyst needs to efficiently resolve any discrepancies in the chargebacks claimed by their wholesalers. Software that delights the user needs to draw from all the information in the system and guide the user. The system should proactively indicate what claims need attention separating data problems, such as incorrect IDs, from eligibility problems, such as missing membership, from contracting errors. Drawing on all the knowledge available, the system can enable the user to work swiftly and reliably.
  • Cognitive Alignment As computers have permeated all aspects of people’s lives, a new field of study has grown that has focused on building better computer interfaces for people, so called Human-Computer Interaction. Psychology and the understanding of human behavior plays a strong role in ensuring that users can interact with the system effectively. Is the information laid out on the screen in a way that the user understands? Does the system use terminology that the user expects? Can the user tell if fields are required or not? Does the user know how to resolve any potential error condition? Modern software companies, like Model N, build strong expertise in the cross-disciplinary field of User Experience. These UX teams work side-by-side with the Product Management teams defining the usefulness of the product and the Engineering teams building the product to ensure a strong cognitive alignment.

Pillars of Success

Software that successfully builds in these three characteristics empowers users, but can it motivate users as well? Tying into user motivations can take good software and make it great. Motivation, Daniel Pink argues, is driven through Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose (AMP). Business software is typically used heavily and user motivation can be significantly impacted by the tools and software they use.

  • Autonomy Users need to feel self-sufficient in the work they undertake. Simple tasks should not require complex skills. Adapting to a changing business should not require IT involvement. Great software thinks about the user holistically and adapts to their needs.
  • Mastery Users need to be able to grow to become experts in the system. The system must adapt and not treat them always as a novice. Multi-step wizards may give way to direct editing. Browsing and exploring may give way to searching. Great software should build in efficiencies for expert users whilst not complicating a beginner using the system for the first time.
  • Purpose Users need to know that what they do is important. Great software takes away the menial tasks and focuses the user on their goals that are aligned with the larger business processes and goals.The combination of empowerment and motivation cannot just arm users with the tools they need to be productive, but can also instill delight and passion. And passionate users are productive users.

Welcome to “Power of N”, a collection of blogs by John Ellithorpe, CTO of Model N. John’s series will give you an inside perspective on enterprise software and how Model N builds applications that solve our customers’ critical business needs. Power of N takes you behind the scenes for a look at what’s required in the applications that our customers use to realize exponential growth in revenue.