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Creating software that humans trust

By Andy Bottrill, VP EMEA, BlackLine 

We put our lives in the hands of software more and more every day.From business applications that help us to do our jobs, to the operating systems of our handheld devices, software is now an essential part of most people’s day-to-day lives – both in the workplace and at home.

Andy Bottrill
Andy Bottrill

We live in a world where AI and automation enabled technology are becoming the norm. Deep learning algorithms are shaping innovation across a range of sectors, from oil and gas to financial services. Meanwhile virtual assistants and smart speakers have become commonplace in consumer homes. This surge in technology and our reliance on it means that software in various forms has become ubiquitous – but not necessarily trusted.

The truth is humans are naturally bad at software: it’s not visible and it’s not tangible, so our natural reaction is often suspicion. For most, it’s difficult to grasp exactly what software is, what it does and, importantly, why it acts the way it does. Software is also powerful. This combined with its abstract nature can make it seem intimidating, even dangerous.

So how do we create good software that humans understand and want to use? What is ‘good’ software anyway?

Purity of purpose

Purity of purpose, or doing one thing really well, makes software easier to market, but also easier to use, understand and relate to. If its function is clear and it fulfils a specific need, then humans can more easily imagine adopting it – especially if it’s going to make our lives easier.

Of course, doing ‘one thing’ doesn’t mean it should only address one process or job. Software is more complex and capable than that. Intelligent automation can streamline a whole host of processes that collectively contribute toward one much larger task or goal. For example, in finance, using software to automate a number of manual, routine tasks can significantly improve the entire close process.

Connectivity

Another important facet of ‘good’ software is connectivity. With so much software layered across different functions in an enterprise, a certain level of integration is vital.If solutions don’t work together, you may be forced to choose between best of breed software that doesn’t ‘play’ well with other tools; or a solution that works with your other applications but isn’t necessarily fit for purpose.

Traditionally software brands have been insular and non-collaborative, attempting to force customers into only using their products. However, this mindset needs to change. In a more crowded and competitive software landscape, if it won’t integrate, customers will simply find an alternative that will.

Ease of use

Just like good hardware, software that is intuitive and easy to use is by far the most successful. If it’s easy to engage with, from initial set-up to day-to-day usage and ongoing maintenance, then it’s easier for a workplace – and its employees – to get behind it. Companies won’t have to waste valuable time working out how to get the best from their purchase, and workers will be better able to recognise the benefits.

Security and risk

In today’s world, it also is extremely important to work with software vendors that prioritise security, particularly when it comes to sensitive financial data. Businesses shouldn’t be afraid to scruitinise their partners’ security environments, operations and policies. Ultimately, any software company worth its salt should be transparent about the procedures that safeguard your data.

While companies are undoubtedly more aware of IT security risks than they were ten years ago, it’s important to remember that good software can play a key role in managing this and many other forms of risk. For example, in the past, as a company neared the financial close, accountants reconciling accounts might find an error requiring them to reach out to coworkers for answers. This could culminate in a dead end – a colleague couldn’t find the relevant document or had failed to preserve a physical hard record. Automation software, on the other hand, provides architecture that enables accountants to track workflows across even the largest global enterprise – significantly improving visibility and accountability.

Transparency

When it comes to trust, transparency is perhaps the most important factor. Humans are curious, we want to know how and why something works. If confronted with a mysterious ‘black box’ that spits out recommendations or results, our natural response is often skepticism or caution. Unfortunately with technology like machine learning, there is still an inclination to ‘hide the magic’, but explaining to users how this process works helps them to place trust in its final output.

Finally, being able to trust the people behind the software is absolutely vital. It is much easier to place faith in a product, be that hardware, software or something we use as consumers, if we have faith in the company that makes it. Again, this is where transparency comes in to play – customers want to work with companies that are honest not only about what they do, but also why and how they do it.