I’m sure you’ve had the experience of firing up an application on your PC, phone or tablet and thought to yourself “which idiot designed this?!” as you go hunting around for the “obvious” things you need that the programmer has cunningly hidden away.

The challenge of software development

Well as an old coder from the 80s and 90s, I can tell you that the whole software development thing is a complex thing to do. You have to ensure that you’re gathering and processing all the data that is needed. You have to ensure that the business rules (the complex calculations) are applied correctly. Lastly you have to try to make the application as easy to use as possible and these days also, aesthetically pleasing. This last piece is incredibly difficult. What might be loved by one person may be hated by the next. Making the complex seem simple (which is often the aim of a good user interface) takes an enormous amount of time. 

To try to overcome these challenges software companies endeavour to engage with their customers so that, as far as possible, applications are built with customers front of mind.

They build “use cases” where they define the typical user and what they are trying to achieve. This helps the designers and developers build systems that behave in a way that is intuitive to the user focussed on their desired outcomes. Multiple “use cases” are often needed. In an accounting firm context applications may be used by junior data entry staff, senior staff doing complex work and practice leaders who are looking for summary data. Dealing with the needs of all these groups is time consuming and costly. Compromise is often needed otherwise applications would be late to market and too costly for the customer. Compromise too much and no-one is happy. No wonder after I sold the PKF software business to Solution 6 (now part of MYOB) in 1999 I never got back into software development!

These days the ante has been raised with the need for highly attractive user interfaces. In the 80s and 90s the last thing software developers thought about was the aesthetics in software design. Today, companies spend a fortune on the “user experience” or UX. User experience design has the goal of enhancing customer satisfaction and loyalty by improving usability, ease of use, and pleasure provided in the interaction between the customer and the product. In many mature markets such as accounting software, many companies are differentiating themselves more by user experience than by functionality which is very similar in most products. 

These days, to make this even harder, applications have to achieve these objectives on a PC, tablet and phone which are very different from a user experience perspective. We’re not that far away either from these applications being in three dimensions with virtual reality or augmented reality interfaces. Of course we must do this without sacrificing speed or reliability. Anyway, want to go into the software business?

So companies spend significant time sending out analysts to interview customers about their needs; receiving feedback on prototypes; reviewing applications as they’re developed. The goal is to create applications that efficiently deliver results and are a pleasure to use.

At #ATSA16 in Melbourne this October 24-25, we are going to provide you with an opportunity to experience this process at MYOB’s #TheHackStand. Teams of MYOB developers will be there to hear your ideas. Three ideas will be selected that will then be developed as the conference proceeds. Throughout the event you will be able to contribute to design, watch development in progress and make suggestions for improvements. At the end of the conference, applications will be reviewed and a winner declared. If you've got an idea that the MYOB developers can attack at ATSA, email them to [email protected].

You will come away with a greater appreciation of the software development process and be equipped to provide more effective feedback to your suppliers. 

Just another reason to attend the technology event for accountants in practice. Come to #ATSA16 at Crown Palladium Melbourne on October 24-25.  More information at atsaevent.com.au

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David Smith Smithink