When it comes to technology falling below its potential, what better industry to learn from than the world of conference calling and remote meetings?
Despite being a mature industry that has witnessed new technologies emerge and evolve, the clear majority of conference calls are still audio-only, with employees choosing to ‘dial in’ using numbers and codes just as they did decades ago.
While more capable software products have been available for many years now, they continue to be shunned by most users.
So why is this happening and what can be learned in a broader SaaS context from this prolonged failure?
1. Target market is more important than ever
Remote meetings are by no means unusual in that different part of an enterprise have different needs. IT teams and training teams tend to have a pretty exhaustive list of feature requirements, including relatively specialist capabilities such as remote desktop control, document co-editing, annotation, and guest polling and voting. If these teams need to be trained on how to use such features, no problem, they fundamentally can’t do their jobs without them. By contrast though, pretty much everyone else in an enterprise will likely need none of the above. Instead, they want something simple that just works, and that lets them collaborate with minimal or no training.
It’s little wonder then that one-size-fits-all products that have attempted to move the enterprise on from legacy dial-in codes have largely failed. Such feature-laden products may well have met the needs of those specialist users, but the silent majority have shunned them in favour of the devil they know – dial-in. And this is despite their clear loathing of it and all the time-wasting frustrations that come with it.
Winning SaaS products are those which recognise and deliver upon distinct needs. For example, Salesforce is a great CRM tool for sales teams, but there’s likely a better one for investment professionals. Jira is a great workflow tool for product and engineering teams, but there’s likely a better one for marketing teams. The meteoric rise of the SaaS delivery model has enabled users to choose best-in-class tools for the jobs at hand. Critical therefore is the need to have a better-than-ever understanding of those jobs at hand and how they vary across different parts of the enterprise.
2. Risk appetite and aversion
With target market needs well defined, the next challenge is UI design and how best to manifest a sensibly-defined set of capabilities into a product experience.
One dimension of this challenge which shows itself loud and clear in the world of conferencing, is the target market’s comfort with the risk of user error, particularly in the adoption phase of the product. For example, when a user is in the hot seat as host of a remote meeting, there’s little to no room for user error. The last thing that host wants is for things to go wrong or to be unsure what to do next in the heat of the moment in front of clients and colleagues. This only needs to happen once or twice and the user will be dashing back to ‘good old’ dial-in numbers and access codes. This is indeed reality for the silent majority in the world today.
SaaS vendors need to understand their target market’s level of risk appetite or aversion when people are using – and particularly trying to adopt – their products, and then reflect that understanding in their UI design choices. For example, the general desire the do more with fewer clicks may well hold in situations where the user can tolerate some trial and error, perhaps in a solo and unhurried usage environment. Once they’ve found their way around, this UI treatment can clearly pay off.
However, the opposite can be true in time-sensitive, group and public usage scenarios. It may seem counter-intuitive to add clicks for the sake of user experience, but in situations where trial and error simply can’t be risked, it can be the only way to get many people comfortable. An extra couple of clicks may take an extra few seconds, but can lead to a clearer, more ‘guided’ product flow, and that can pay considerable dividends in terms of adoption and usage.
3. Playing well with others
There’s a growing realisation that one size simply doesn’t fit all when it comes to the collaboration needs of a modern enterprise. And this is only amplified when you add on the need to collaborate with external customers, suppliers and partners, who’ll naturally be using a disparate set of tools and platforms.
However, this doesn’t mean that the aspiration of a ‘unified communications’ experience is without merit. A seamless, joined-up user experience can still be achieved through best-in-class capabilities that integrate and play well with one another. As long as this is the case, those capabilities don’t all have to reside in one or few products.
Playing well together is clearly aided by open APIs in SaaS solutions, as well as by the emergence of big data solutions to the growing problem of multiple data silos that are forming around organisations. However, the enterprise also needs communications tools that can act as effective ‘glue’ between such data silos. The emergence of ‘channelized’ team messaging tools is a great example of effective glue, where siloed data can now be effectively shared between team members. And the same is true for remote meetings, whereby the host can share data and content with guests that may reside in any number other solutions around the enterprise.
4. Commitment to security and data privacy
The cloud has driven a proliferation of SaaS solutions in the enterprise. Shadow IT has been born as departments, teams and individuals choose the best products for their particular needs and increased technology decision-making and spend has moved outside of the IT function.
Many more forward-looking IT teams have now embraced this inevitable shift rather than constantly and unsuccessfully fighting against it. And where they have, so much the better for all concerned. Users benefit from more organised rollouts and 24/7 support, and the IT department gains the necessary visibility to ensure that such tools are compliant with enterprise security and data privacy standards, despite not being directly in control of their purchase. This can include considerations such as information security management standards like ISO, identity access management and single sign-on (SSO), and data storage, transfer and deletion policies.
As such partnerships between IT and their internal customers become more common, SaaS vendors might still able to leverage the shadow IT trend to get a toe-hold in the enterprise, but they must also cover critical enterprise security bases if they’re to win at scale.
The digital workplace has benefited a great deal from progress in consumer technology. Consumer applications that offer a focused and excellent user experience have raised the bar in the world of enterprise software too.
However, there are nuances that complicate the game in the enterprise and that are important to consider carefully to achieve the adoption and usage that everyone is after.
Sourced from Steve Flavell, co-CEO, LoopUp