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SuccessFactors Launches Simplicity Lab

The online human resource management software provider takes a different approach to end user experiences.

SuccessFactors Inc. wants to make enterprise applications more user-friendly. On Monday, the San Mateo, CA-based maker of online human resource management software announced an initiative to extend the ease and simplicity of consumer Web apps to traditionally cryptic corporate programs.

SuccessFactors NEXT Labs aims to solicit user input to improve the user experience of SuccessFactors Performance and Talent Management Suite and to make sure that trendy technical concepts like Ajax, Web services, and Web 2.0 -- from mashups to tagging to social networking -- find their way into the company's software.

Rob Bernshteyn, vice president of product marketing, likens the initiative to test beds at other companies like Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo. SuccessFactors NEXT Labs will develop program prototypes and test them on end users rather than some enterprise buyer who might not be as aware of what users want.

SuccessFactors boasts more than a 1,000 enterprise customers and over 2 million end-users of its Web-based software. Its customers include Arrow Electronics, Direct Energy, Kimberly-Clark Corporation, Lancaster General Hospital, MasterCard Worldwide, Quintiles Transnational, T. Rowe Price, Salesforce.com, Sutter Healthcare, Textron and Volkswagen of North America.

Rob Bernshteyn, vice president of product marketing, claims that his company's software is designed to be used by everyone in the company, as opposed to more complicated applications from the likes of PeopleSoft and SAP that require considerable training and are intended for a subset of corporate users.

"The biggest hurdle to overcome is adoption," said Bernshteyn. "It's the willingness to use this applications and make them part of your daily routine. What we set out to do is make it so intuitive and simple, so delicious, if you will, for employees, that they are going to want to be in these applications."

Bernshteyn argues that the traditional way of buying enterprise software, where buyers make decisions on behalf of end users, doesn't work because buyers get comfortable with applications through repeated exposure and "get married to them" on the basis of a rich feature set. (Rich feature sets being something of a necessity in order to justify the expense of enterprise software.)

The problem as Bernshteyn sees it is that users want simplicity. "It's not about having every possible feature," he said. "It's about making it intuitive and easy to use. When users come into the office and open up some old archaic application that doesn't have the simplicity of what they used at home, they're arguing about it. They're sending e-mails to HR saying, 'I just can't use this thing. It's too complicated.'"

Given the rapid growth of SuccessFactors' client list -- an almost fourfold increase in customers over the past twelve months—some companies appear to be getting those messages.

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