With the support of the Design and Co-Innovation Center (DCC) from SAP, Unilever has established a User Interface Center of Excellence at the organization, resulting in a considerable increase in user productivity and satisfaction.
In this interview, Manfred Kürschner, Head of User Interface Center of Excellence, Unilever, shares his thoughts about the establishment of a UI Center of Excellence at Unilever, and his experience of working with the DCC.
Why is user experience an important topic for companies, especially for Unilever?
Manfred Kürschner: In general, companies strive to remain competitive by continuously improving the efficiency and effectiveness of how they run their business. Unilever is no different. We have realized that IT user experience is a competitive advantage and thus decided to make UX a priority and to focus on it. Our key objectives in focusing on UX are as follows: increase user productivity and user satisfaction, and positively influence the employee value proposition. At the same time, we want to reduce the need for training, and improve the quality of our data. With these measures combined, we aim to improve user adoption of the IT applications we provide.
How, in your opinion, does user experience drive business value?
Manfred Kürschner: UX is not for free, which means that investments have to be made if we want to improve it. As a company, in particular where IT is not the core business, IT investments are only made if there is a return on investment (a positive business case). UX has a number of benefits and values. It is important to do more than explain these, even if they are obvious and clear. It must be possible to prove and measure these values. These tangible business values are as follows: user/employee productivity increase due to more effective and efficient usability and design of the user interface, reduced user training requirements due to intuitive design, and reduced support needs due to a general user solution-focused design. There are more benefits and values, but these are the ones that we are able to measure, to prove and to extrapolate financial data from.
What challenges have you faced at Unilever?
Manfred Kürschner: The key challenge – and I don’t think this is specific to Unilever – is to change the mindset and to integrate the new activities into the standard processes and ways of working, and to build the skills across the organization. To some extent this is not just the case within the IT organization. It also requires a change in the business functions.
Were you involved in user experience at Unilever before collaborating with SAP?
Manfred Kürschner: I started looking at UX a while ago, before becoming involved with SAP in the area of UX. For both SAP UX and myself, this was an interesting start. My approach to SAP UX is from a user perspective (I mainly used SAP GUI for transactions, so you can understand my approach), and the SAP UX team was seeking to address exactly the key issues, which generated my interest.
What was your motivation for collaborating with the DCC?
Manfred Kürschner: SAP is a major component of our IT landscape. To improve UX to a wider extent, the SAP UX has to be changed. In my experience however, most SAP teams are still very technical and functionally minded (like most company IT teams) and were not able to provide us with the support we required to get where we wanted to be with our UX. The DCC has both the right UX skills and experience, and the technical knowledge to give us the support we need. In addition, many DCC members are UX experts rather than SAP solution experts, thus providing us with flexibility in the scope of possible collaborations.
Have you previously worked with any other UX design services providers? How was the DCC different?
Manfred Kürschner: I have worked with other UX Design Service providers. There are use cases where other UX Design Services providers might provide the more suitable option. The difference in my experience however, is the DCC’s flexibility and customer focus. The DCC has a very strong customer focus and is always open and clear if something is not feasible or cannot be realistically achieved. Another key competitive advantage of the DCC is obviously its integration in new UX design developments. From a customer point of view, I can be sure receive both excellent UX/UCD support and the latest technical solution options.
What kind of (internal and external) feedback have you received after establishing a UI CoE at Unilever?
Manfred Kürschner: We have received consistently positive feedback. The need for and importance of UX excellence in companies like Unilever has become an essential requirement.