Apply design thinking to enhance user experience for incentive compensation management

Senior Product Portfolio Manager, Sales Performance Management, IBM

Being a product marketer for a software solution, I’ve always believed that the best products in the market are those that are easy to use, intuitive and have a modern interface, but more importantly provide an excellent user experience. Technology solutions need to enhance our working environment, make our jobs easier and offer an enjoyable experience. I think back to a quote from Justin Mifsud at the design website Usability Geek:

“A great user interface is so seamless that we don’t even think about it…but a poor user experience tends to make us frustrated, impatient, even angry—and we inherently remember that negative experience for a longer time.”

As we move into the cognitive era of enhanced solutions and unprecedented capabilities, we have drawn upon innovations in design thinking. These innovations help ensure that usability and the user experience remain central in the development of technologies such as the recent IBM Incentive Compensation Management (ICM) Version 10.

Innovation inspired by the user experience

In the most recent release of IBM ICM, we’ve engaged the IBM design team and employed the most modern design methodologies in creating an excellent software experience that works for our users. The IBM design team not only believes in making great products, but also painstakingly crafts experiences that delight users.

I’ve been working with customers that have deployed IBM ICM for several years and in many different capacities. One of my roles prior to becoming a product marketer at IBM was leading the educational services team for the IBM ICM solution. As an educator in this role, I witnessed the reactions from our users multiple times after a new version had been released in the market. One of the biggest changes over the years was when customers upgraded from IBM ICM Version 6 to Version 7. It was a huge jump for many customers. However, once we were in production with Version 7, customers expressed improvements in the overall user experience of the solution—they simply experienced enhanced enjoyment working with the solution.

We are now at another milestone in making a significant improvement in the solution’s user experience. But what’s different this time is how we went about it. With the help of the IBM design team and the design methodologies we employed, we’ve taken a step back and invested time in modernizing the user interface, making the solution more intuitive and much easier to use.

The key to design is not only to follow modern best practices in user interface design techniques, create the solution with today’s agile development methodologies and leverage the latest technology advancements. Also getting out and talking to customers, asking them how they are interacting with the solution and finding out what they want to change are vital. And letting them drive the decisions that make the solution the best among sales performance management (SPM) vendor solutions is also critical. The result is IBM ICM Version 10, featuring a range of new product capabilities and user enhancements.

7 highlights influenced by design thinking

1.  Improved user experience: After an intensive road trip meeting, interviewing and engaging with customers, the IBM product offering team and the IBM design team listened to the needs of our customers. We updated 377 different screens—essentially the entire solution—in response to improving the customer experience. Navigation, number of clicks, aesthetics, layout, performance, visualizations and much more were all considerations in this process, and we thank our customers for their collaborative efforts and contributions. Rest assured, no compromise was made to prior capabilities and features in this release—it just offers a much enhanced user experience. Here are some examples of the enhanced user interface and user experience, including the home screen’s recent activity, workflow manager and the presenter report builder: 

2.  Perform all administration functions through the web browser: We’ve also reengineered the delivery method for administrators accessing IBM ICM Version 10. In prior releases, administrative users were required to download and install a thick client or access the administrative functions through Citrix, if hosted. In Version 10, this client is no longer required and administrators can access the solution through any modern web browser. Administrators can make changes to calculations, create new reports, add a payee or even run a workflow process from their home, a coffee shop or even on the bus—as long as they have Internet access.

3.  Expanded application programming interfaces: Many customers have been asking us to expand our application programming interfaces (APIs) because they want to develop applications that extend the capabilities of the solution. In addition, with an extended API set, organizations have additional options for bidirectional integration—for example, updating upstream and downstream systems. In this release, we have extended our RESTful APIs to over 500, and given customers the RESTful API calls they need to think outside the box. Our partners are especially excited, as this API set enables them to leverage the extended RESTful APIs to develop added-value applications for customers. 

4.  Mobile reporting for sales and compensation administrators: Sales organizations continue to depend on mobile devices, and ensuring we are delivering our solutions to be accessible from anywhere, at any time is critical. IBM ICM Version 10 provides Pulse, which offers new capabilities built into the solution that enable administrators to create reports and deploy them to iOS and iPad devices. These reports are optimized for both the web and mobile interfaces.

Organizations can configure a set of standard reports using Pulse and deploy them throughout the sales organization to display key sales performance metrics such as sales representative compensation earnings, peer rankings, quota attainment, year-to-date sales and other key metrics. Compensation administrators can compare one compensation plan with another in prebuilt reports. Three out-of-the-box reports are available: Total Payouts, Payee vs. Performance and Performance Against On-Target Earnings (OTE). Sales reps, sales management and compensation administrators have a view of the overall health and well-being of the compensation plan.

5.  Automatic software upgrades: Continuously scheduled software-as-a-service (SaaS) releases will be made throughout the year, allowing customers to have ongoing access to new features, functionality, capabilities and enhancements following their development and testing. This process streamlines product releases and enables customers to leverage new features and capabilities earlier than ever.

6.  A highly intuitive calculation wizard: In previous releases, when administrators needed to create a new calculation or change an existing calculation, they needed to engage in a five-step process by clicking Next through each step. After speaking with customers, the redesign includes reordering tabs, separation of sources and restrictions, and a new restriction view that helps simplify the process of building and maintaining calculations. 

7.  Improved integration with IBM Watson Analytics: Customers are seeking better ways than they’ve been using to analyze sales territories, quotas and incentive compensation plans for uncovering trends, patterns and insight. IBM Incentive Compensation Management integrates directly with IBM Watson Analytics through the Composer module. In this release, further improvements were made in the form of a new widget that exports data to Watson Analytics. Users can now explore new trends, patterns and insight to view relationships in the ICM and other data that might not have otherwise been discovered.

User-provided ideas from the wild

As Patrick Neeman from said, “There’s nothing like putting your assumptions to the test in front of users. Not only do you get to see your work in the wild, you’ll frequently get amazing ideas from users because they use the system every day.” 

See the updates in user design and capabilities of the new IBM Incentive Compensation Management solution. 

Improve sales performance with enhanced design thinking