Does good UI mean anything for business software? The people who will make the purchase decision usually aren’t the people who will actually use the software, so even though, for the end-user, the interface is the system it should not matter to the people with the money.
Of course you can talk about TCO, about the time it takes to train people, and how enjoyment of work leads to more productive people. But at the end of the day, I think what really matters, is that the people who are about to shell out a substantial amount of money can see that you, the seller, cares and is investing in the software.
This was brought up by a friend of mine from a different product group. They have recently released a completely revamped product. New backend, new UI, some new functionality. My friend said that the experience selling this product is substantially different form the other products form the same division. First of all, the UI looks new and modern and people want to like it. Once they have gone through the rest of the system and everything checks out to be modern and have a future, the buyers get really excited. They can see that we are investing in the product and that gives them confidence.
Which leads me to the car analogy. Chevy does not have a good track record on quality, but the newest version of the Malibu has received very positive feedback. Yet, I am not sure I would personally buy a Chevy car. Not because the individual car may not be of high quality, but because the overall system that it is a part of is not sound. I honestly don’t know if Chevy is going to be around to honor the guarantee or supply spare parts. I have lost faith in the company more so than in the product.
I think something similar is at stake in business software. The product may be technically great or the UI may look spiffy, but unless you can show how you are investing in both and that you are prepared to keep investing, I don’t think you have a compelling case.
Now, please do not think that I don’t think the UI should work well, but just look great, of course it should be great. I actually believe in the TCO, training, and enjoyment arguments above, but the first usage of the UI is not when people start using the software, but on the box or in the sales situation.