Redefining the enterprise user experience

March 1, 2010
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I wrote recently about the growing phenomenon of employees circumventing corporate policy and tools to solve business problems using their on tools, both hardware and software and even process. This “BYO” culture, I believe, is partially fueled with the increasing desire to mimic the web 2.0 user experience that we’re growing accustomed to in our “personal” online lives. It’s also fueled by a change to a culture of individual empowerment that has accompanied adoption of the social web. I also want to emphasize that I don’t think this change is generational, but is in fact cross-generational, what I like to call Gen”S” (that’s Gen social in case that wasn’t obvious). Most of the recent survey data supports that concept, that social adoption is crossing all generational boundaries and creating a group that has some similarities beyond generation. One of those similarities seems to be an aversion to “traditional” enterprise software and its somewhat dated user interfaces (UI). The traditional UI tends to be complex, often difficult to navigate…

201001301539.jpg

I wrote recently about the growing phenomenon of employees circumventing corporate policy and tools to solve business problems using their on tools, both hardware and software and even process. This “BYO” culture, I believe, is partially fueled with the increasing desire to mimic the web 2.0 user experience that we’re growing accustomed to in our “personal” online lives. It’s also fueled by a change to a culture of individual empowerment that has accompanied adoption of the social web. I also want to emphasize that I don’t think this change is generational, but is in fact cross-generational, what I like to call Gen”S” (that’s Gen social in case that wasn’t obvious). Most of the recent survey data supports that concept, that social adoption is crossing all generational boundaries and creating a group that has some similarities beyond generation. One of those similarities seems to be an aversion to “traditional” enterprise software and its somewhat dated user interfaces (UI). The traditional UI tends to be complex, often difficult to navigate, hard to learn, a challenge to remember procedures for processes that are not done routinely like exception processing and unsupportive of ad hoc processes and collaboration. Portals don’t help that experience, by the way…opening a window to multiple systems in one place still uses the original UI in the end, even if you can arrange the widgets on the portal however you choose. The traditional enterprise UI is in stark contrast to the UI of familiar web 2.0 tools that we are growing accustom to using on a frequent basis.

There’s another underlying issue around the current user experience that, although it may seem disconnected, is not. The last couple of years has seen some shift in enterprise IT behavior that I think may be a new pattern. Budgetary constraints have forced companies to focus IT spending on the highest return SW which often has led them to put a hold on changes to the core ERP systems. Enterprise companies continued to invest in SW but that investment was often in deep vertical applications that offer the highest competitive advantage. The concept of maintaining core ERP systems basically without upgrade for a longer period of time is of course counter to the behavior that vendors preach but I wonder if this behavior might not be a part of the “new normal”…maintain the core ERP, spend and expand on high value items like vertical apps, social collaboration tools, social CRM and social platforms. I’m talking specifically about enterprise by the way, this does not apply to the SMB market in the same way. SMB buying behavior is different and I believe they are actually in the opposite part of the ERP cycle, currently investing in full systems to replace disparate and incomplete systems, especially cloud-based ERP (although I do think SMB’s will also invest in social solutions over the next few years). My point with this is that in a time when employees / users are looking for a different user experience companies (at least enterprises) are not changing core systems at near the pace they did before 2008 so even if there was a new UI and experience available from ERP vendors (which there isn’t), the chances of it getting implemented are very low if it is a part of the core system.

What do employees want from their enterprise SW user experience? Here are a few of the things that come to mind in no particular order:

  • A way to connect with, work with and share with other employees
  • A better way to find out who does what inside the enterprise
  • A UI for enterprise SW systems that looks and works more like facebook, Google Wave, or some other simplified but powerful web 2.0 tools. The UI should be able to aggregate information from and interact with people (employees, customers, partners, suppliers, etc.), enterprise SW systems and public social channels in a user configurable and selectable way.
  • A way to contribute content easily to various projects and systems ranging from employee training to product manuals.
  • A simple way to form group mashups or ad hoc workgroups.
  • Presence in a simple, manageable method
  • Content sharing not content management
  • A simple way to execute project tasks and understand work interdependencies while reporting status to a configurable group of interested and involved individuals
  • A system / method to integrate and utilize various communication channels ranging from (and as diverse as) telephone to Twitter
  • A simple way to find “things” in the enterprise, people, content, data, information…search
  • A way to aggregate and use social data (socialytics) and combine that data with other enterprise data to form analysis in a social context.

I’m sure there are a bunch of other things to add so feel free to do so in the comments please. So what’s the real challenge then? To do both “fix” or better yet build a new enterprise user experience AND maintain the core systems in a somewhat static state. It strikes me that there are a couple of ways to approach this. One would be to sort of decouple the UI from the systems through some sort of mashup platform that could be used to build and deploy a new UI across the enterprise (I suppose that also includes the capability for UI level integrations). There are a few of these types of mashup platforms emerging but I haven’t seen anything so far that is complete enough to do what I am suggesting. Another approach is to provide an application that sits on top of the enterprise (or maybe that’s in between the enterprise systems, people and the outside world) that provides features and functions that provide the new and desired user experience. I have seen two applications that I think are version 1’s of this concept, salesforce Chatter and Novell Pulse (it also seems like IBM’s Lotus Connections is moving in this direction but I’m not as familiar with it as the other two). And of course in new enterprise systems we have to take these new requirements and needs to heart and significantly change our current user experience going forward.