Software umwelt, are you compatible with the software you use?

Umwelt is a German word and is described thus:

In 1909, the biologist Jakob von Uexküll introduced the concept of the umwelt. He wanted a word to express a simple (but often overlooked) observation: different animals in the same ecosystem pick up on different environmental signals. In the blind and deaf world of the tick, the important signals are temperature and the odor of butyric acid. For the black ghost knifefish, it’s electrical fields. For the echolocating bat, it’s air-compression waves. The small subset of the world that an animal is able to detect is its umwelt. The bigger reality, whatever that might mean, is called the umgebung.

The interesting part is that each organism presumably assumes its umwelt to be the entire objective reality “out there.” Why would any of us stop to think that there is more beyond what we can sense? In the movie The Truman Show, the eponymous Truman lives in a world completely constructed around him by an intrepid television producer. At one point an interviewer asks the producer, “Why do you think Truman has never come close to discovering the true nature of his world?” The producer replies, “We accept the reality of the world with which we’re presented.” We accept our umwelt and stop there.

 from The Umwelt @ edge.org

This is a useful concept to bear in mind when you are thinking about purchasing software – no, it is, really.

You will have a world view of your business and how you think it interacts with the world. Your accepted business processes will seem like the only sensible way to handle that view. Your colleagues will more than likely share your view and be accustomed to those governing processes. Your life experience will frame your observations and decisions.

On the other side of the fence are the software developers, and the designers that wrote the software you are looking to use. Let’s call them Enterprise Study, or ES for short, but it could be anyone building software they believe will help you manage your business in line with your processes.

ES have built up a suite of software tools to support and manage learning and development programmes and process. Some features are large and have their own marketing sweet spot, others are small but are no less significant when it comes to building a tool for a business.

It’s not the feature, it’s how you use it that matters

You see, when clients go fishing for a new piece of software for their business they send out a tick sheet with a list of features that they are looking for. However, what matters more is how those features enable process; how they are going to fit into the existing business and it’s umwelt. Will the umwelts be compatible? ES have one umwelt. Indeed every vendor will have their own unique umwelt. Every customer will have their own unique umwelt.

If the two are compatible then the relationship will be a mutually powerful one. If they are opposed then a business change process will be required for the software to work for the business.

That’s why we spend a lot of time at ES working with clients to match features to processes.  We understand the processes and the umwelt that our software needs to support. That’s why we have a lot of configurable switches to adjust the behaviour of the software.

So if you are looking for a piece of software to support your business and its processes, here is our advice:

  • Think carefully about your processes – especially the intricate details.

    It’s not the day-to-day things that cause difficulties, it is the misfits, the edge cases.

  • By all means start with a feature list, but finish with how you want to use them and what would be your sacred cows.
  • We will ask you about things that you will think are blindingly obvious, but our umwelt is different, we may not grasp all the intricacies of the work that you do.
  • Is your current way of working absolutely critical, or just a quirk of your current software?

It’s an exciting journey…you could discover a whole new umwelt.

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