When Microsoft launched SharePoint Portal Server 2001, it was regularly slated by most competitors and analysts, and written off by many customers. Now it did have its challenges, scalability being the biggest one, and some of the features needed (a lot of) improvement. But it had one advantage over most, if not all, of its competitors at the time – its user interface (UI). It integrated with Windows and Office (2000 and XP), and made simple document management, including applying basic workflow and metadata, very easy to do with minimal training. I have seen examples of incredibly expensive IT projects fail for want of a good user interface. From personal experience, my frustrations with Siebel were caused purely by its confusing and illogical navigation. (The benefits of working for a software company? An internal team wrote an in-house client that made it much more usable.)

With I.T. projects, I always worry when the UI gets dismissed as unimportant or irrelevant (it happens a lot), and all focus is placed on ‘back room’ features. Sure, you need a system to be reliable, secure, scalable, and it has to be able to do the job it’s designed for. But it’s pointless having the king of applications deployed, if the user interface is so bad nobody ever uses it or, worse, wastes hours of time trying to get to grips with it or, worse still, uses it incorrectly…

…and this issue is multipled 1000x when dealing with I.T systems that require regular human interaction. Think portals, content management, team workspaces, all forms of messaging…

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