Simplifying the Enterprise

Working in today’s hectic business environment is hard enough.  By forcing employees to use antiquated, hard-to-learn, hard-to-share information systems in an enterprise (large or small), large software companies have created a great environment for themselves, and a generally poor one for users.

But that is all changing now.

For 20 years, typical businesses have been using Microsoft Office products on “Wintel” machines (personal computers that had a version of Microsoft Windows and an Intel processor).  How many people use Excel to track customers, projects, payroll, accounting, inventory and tasks?  Outlook has been the primary form of communication for businesses since 1995.  And you can’t go to a meeting without a PowerPoint slide deck to guide you through the multiple back-to-back hour-long timesucks we call meetings.

Working in this environment, users had to learn how to use these tools.  None of which are intuitive.  Most entry-level resumes have for decades – and even still today – include a statement like “proficient in Microsoft Office”.

And here’s the really scary thing.  Microsoft Office has been the best tools to use in business for decades.  There are systems like Lotus Notes, Oracle’s ERP solution, and others that try to package all of the capabilities that an enterprise would need to function well. 

But they’re all hard to learn, and horrible to use. 

Google recently rolled out Google Docs, which are basically web-based versions of Microsoft’s flagship Office products – Gmail for Outlook, Docs for Word, Spreadsheets for Excel, and Presentation for PowerPoint.  These are far more intuitive (but less powerful) versions of Microsoft’s products, and by nature are far easier to share and allow multi-user editing. 

But even Google Docs bases their solutions on Office’s interfaces.  Even now in 2013, we’re still using Wintel-based interfaces to our information.

Steve Jobs got it right

Go back to 2007 when the iPhone was introduced.  What exactly was it about that device that changed the world?  Well for starters, the name iPhone is a terrible name for what the device actually is.  It is a handheld device that accesses the whole of human knowledge and experience anytime anywhere.  But even more than that, it has the most intuitive user experience ever built for software.

The iOS operating system has a user interface that14-month-old babies and 98-year-old great-grandparents – and anyone in between – can understand.  It makes mobile technology available to the non-technical people of the world.  It simplifies the way we interact with data by minimizing the information displayed, and maximizing simplicity in customization of your device. 

Instead of replicating the Wintel interface on a device not equipped to handle that type of interface (which many mobile operating systems did at the time), Apple perfected the overall interface, and – more importantly – perfected the interface of each stock application.  And beyond that, Apple did a fantastic job in creating an ecosystem that interacts with laptops, tablets, phones, the cloud, iTunes, and one another. 

Consumers expect software to be easy to use

Every new software startup company has a simple-to-navigate user experience, whether it be a web, mobile or desktop interface.  User interface drives the adoption of consumer-grade software, hardware and services anymore.  Even TVs are simple to use even as they pack more and more capabilities into them. 

Keep in mind that these consumers are also employees of large and small enterprises.

So when they come to work and have to interact with data in clunky, barely-connected IT systems, you can imagine how they feel about that experience.

No wonder mobile adoption – whether authorized or not – is exploding in the enterprise.  If a user knows how to share video and picture files via Pinterest, or post important messages to relevant folks through Twitter, why can’t they use similar systems in their own office?

Enterprise needs to catch up to Consumers

To be successful in creating user adoption, enterprises need to bring that focus on User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI) that consumer applications have to the workforce.  Many small business already do this by using software products like Basecamp, Pipedrive, Google Docs (yes it’s based on Office, but it’s really well done), and others. 

But there are industries that naturally lag far behind in the technology adoption curve.  Defense, Health Care, Logistics, Finance, and even some consumer-focused industries like airlines and cruise ships are slow to adopt new technologies.

But in this fast-paced, ever-improving enterprise world, these industries can’t afford to continue to use siloed, decades-old technologies to serve the demand of current user needs. 

Worse, they now need to train users on how to use this antiquated technology.  For example, how many of your users have ever used a pager?  In the Health Care industry, pagers are the standard form of communication for emergency room doctors. 

Another example from the defense industry – there are at least 6 computers in an M1A2 Abrams tank – the most advanced tank ever built by humanity – and none of them communicate with one another.

Legacy is expensive

There’s a saying about throwing good money after bad.  There’s also an accounting term called “sunk cost”.  Many enterprises are reticent to adopt new technologies for fear of not recouping the cost of their astronomically expensive, difficult to maintain, and impossible to protect information sharing systems. 

In many ways, they don’t have to.

At Coolfire Solutions, we’ve been creating custom enterprise solutions and software products that can either reside on top of existing IT infrastructure, or use cloud-based services to avoid an investment in IT infrastructure. 

ViewPoint, for example, is an iPad-based SharePoint reader.  it gives users an incredibly intuitive interface into a SharePoint system that is full of great information and has a horrible web-based stock user interface.

With Reconn, we’ve simplified the user interface to several satellite communications test and measurement devices by using an iPhone to interface with sensors packed into a revolutionary new hardware product.  Better yet, we’ve included workflows to guide a user step-by-step through a troubleshooting or setup procedure.

Conclusion

Users are doing far more with less total cost of ownership, and enterprise needs to learn how to leverage these new information sharing/viewing/editing capabilities in order to stay relevant in the 21st century business environment.  Users will never read a user manual for consumer-grade software again.  Don’t expect enterprise users to accept poor user experiences for much longer.

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