Why Smart CIOs Channel Steve Jobs

While there are many things to question about Jobs’ approach to business, you can’t argue with his knack for melding tech and design. Is it time to bring back the importance of the user experience?

I just finished reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, a fantastic read about one of the most fascinating people of our time.

While there are many things you might question about Jobs’ approach, you can’t argue with his ability to understand and deliver a beautiful intersection of design and technology (what he called “humanities and science”). What makes Apple’s products so compelling is the way they serve up complex technology in a simple design, which drives consumer engagement and leads to brand loyalty.

Of course, if doing what Steve Jobs did was so straightforward, it would be easy enough to emulate his success. But I do wonder how many CIOs are really thinking about design factors when they’re developing or buying IT products and services.

For the longest time, IT leaders and industry pundits have talked about empowering people with a more intuitive user interface (UI) and greater ease of use. Now, as consumer technology infiltrates the enterprise, we’re all done with the wishful thinking. It’s a demand, not a request.

But delivering a good-to-great UI is no longer the standard to meet. The new objective is user engagement. You’ll notice more and more emphasis on engagement from the vendor community as your suppliers roll out products designed to deliver richer user experiences to colleagues, customers and partners. It is this customer ecosystem that wants deeper engagement while leveraging automation. Incredible technology married with clean design will heighten usability and adoption–thus increasing IT’s relevance.

Delivering technology on time and on budget is so 20th century. On time, on budget and on value is the new normal, and user engagement is one of the doors we must unlock to get there. The most effective way to enable and improve engagement is through elegant, thoughtful product design.

How many times have IT operations rolled out a new business application or system only to find that people can’t use it because it’s too complex? So what do these experiences teach us that we can apply to our own IT organizations? Are we pushing our teams to embrace the art of simplicity and empower the user? Are we spending time on design in all elements of the project?

Jobs focused just as much on the design of a product as he did on the technology. Shouldn’t we be doing the same?