Do we need a standard user interface for cloud applications?
These days, the number of Cloud applications on the market is rapidly expanding as businesses warm up to the Cloud delivery model. While the proliferation of Cloud options on the market is great for spurring competition and innovation in the Cloud, it has resulted in a diverse array of user interfaces (UIs). For users that interact with multiple Cloud apps on a given day, it can be disorienting to switch in between disconnected UIs.
With all the rapid development going on in the Cloud, I think it's time that we start considering what a standard Cloud-based application should look and feel like. In short, we need Cloud UI standards.
Standards Improve Productivity and Save Companies Money
The major problem with having multiple Cloud UIs is the fact there is a lack of consistency between applications. This didn't used to be a problem when employees interacted with only one Cloud application to do their job. Today, however, employees are increasingly using three to four Cloud applications each day. The lack of a unified experience between the apps results in lost productivity.
Creating a set of UI standards will help create a more unified experience that can ultimately reduce the time it takes to learn to use a particular Cloud application. Even if the benefits of UI standards reduced the need for training on a particular app from three days to two, there would be significant cost-savings for large companies. Furthermore, creating a degree of standardization between apps will help reduce user mistakes as users will be more familiar with how to use the apps.
Cloud UI Standards Must Be Dynamic
Of course, any set of cloud UI standards needs to recognize the diversity of Cloud applications on the market. For instance, an email marketing system is a far cry from an accounting system in terms of complexity. Because of these broad differences in complexity, we should aim toward standardizing general features rather than specific features.
I think that the Google UI is a good place to look for an example of how this might be achieved. There are fairly big differences between the various Google apps that are offered. The functionality of Google Calendar is very different than the word processing functionality of Google Docs. Despite the differences in the functionality of the applications, these apps share a wide range of consistent UI elements and are fairly similar in their look and feel. Because of this, mastering one application makes it much easier to master another.
The case of Google apps is important for another reason: Google rolled out UI updates gradually through an iterative process. This allowed Google to incorporate new technologies and UI capabilities in each new version of their apps, with each iteration becoming more and more similar. I envision Cloud UI standards developing in much the same way.
There are lots of iterations and each new version brings the universe of Cloud UIs closer together. However, the UI elements are never quite "finished" so the technologies are continually developing in the World Wide Web and in the Cloud can be incorporated. Through a process like this, we will get closer to a point where Salesforce.com shares a lot of UI elements with Oracle Fusion Financials.
Making It Happen Will Require Collaboration
The benefits of creating a set of UI standards is fairly apparent. It's equally apparent, however, that we won't be able to get there without industry collaboration. In order to make this work, we're going to need enterprise Cloud vendors such as Salesforce and NetSuite to collaborate with industry titans such as SAP and Oracle. Only through a concerted effort can we come close to achieving a set of Cloud UI standards.
Getting there won't be easy so it's time to start thinking about how to make it happen today. But these are just my thoughts. What do you think we need to do in order to create a set of Cloud UI standards?