Consumerising business applications: lessons learned from Amazon and Google

The ‘consumerisation of the enterprise’ is a term quickly gaining traction – but what does it mean and why does it matter? It has become a banner for topics as far-reaching as BYOD, hardware procurement policy, right through to consumer expectations in UI.

So how can due consideration to the consumer space drive adoption of enterprise applications? What lessons can be learnt from the likes of the ‘Big Four’ (Amazon, eBay, Facebook and Google)?

These giants have invested significantly in user experience, a ‘no training’ approach to feature design, and an understanding of how consumers use different devices. They’ve tried and tested hundreds of design patterns, looked at what drives engagement and how people interact with applications. They’ve realised that an ever-increasing number of users want simple, immediate access to content from anywhere, anytime on any device.

>See also: The app store vs. the service catalogue

Enterprise users have now come to expect the same level of ease, usability and design in business applications. Evidence shows interaction with multiple systems with cumbersome UIs is falling at ever increasing levels, irrespective of apparent business value. User satisfaction is at an all-time low.

So, isn’t it time to start applying the same principles to business applications – aiming to treat users as individual consumers?

The problem in your enterprise

Right now you probably have a smorgasbord of applications that together comprise your enterprise landscape. You’ve likely invested significantly and followed advice on what solutions to utilise. Yet users are struggling to engage, adoption is poor and too many people are complaining.

We’ve all seen the scenarios whereby valuable content is shared via email because it’s easier to ask a colleague. We all know the pain of people using offline spreadsheets when they really should be updating CRM.

The key problem here is the reliance on the inherent knowledge of the select few who know how to use these systems. There is a lack of consistency and a community that isn’t fully engaged, which in turn leads to a loss of knowledge, wasted time and missed opportunities.

But don’t worry, you invested significantly and purchased the right software. So it must be the users who are wrong? Maybe if you find a way to enforce their use of the applications the problem would be solved?

Well we know the answer to that.

A team won’t work well with systems unless they get something valuable back. And even if you can force employees to use your tools, you can’t make partners and customers do the same. So why aren’t your consumers engaging??

Let’s remember who your consumers are: normal ‘non-techy’ people who come into work every day and face pressures of deadlines, quotas, service level agreements, and the rest.

They don’t understand advanced CRM configuration and why they have to search for the same content in three places, let alone how to perform a Boolean search. Is it a surprise that consumption and adoption of corporate content is poor throughout the ecosystem?

Taking a step back it seems folly to drive users to engage with complex applications of their own free will.

So how do you engage them? How do you get them to consume your content, maintain your data and be an integrated and active part of your community?

Look at what users are confident with in their personal lives. 90% of us are consuming content on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ Amazon etc. – performing searches, buying products, updating profiles and more. These are pretty advanced functions, yet we engage with these services daily on all our devices.

Why? Not because we are forced to. We do it because we get something back – good or great value for little effort.

It’s about time B2B learnt from the consumer space; people now expect simple and common user experiences which will work across all platforms and devices. They’ve been spoilt and now they’re coming into work expecting the same. It’s time to change; time to start giving them all they want in your ecosystem rather than forcing them to use applications that work for you not them.

Where do we go from here?

There is huge value in existing enterprise content and organisations probably have most of the right end-point applications. Even in-house mission critical systems are probably doing a great job in isolation. But organisations should now reimagine their landscape as a variety of apps, each focused on its own strengths and delivered by a specialist supplier. Many are cloud-based with open APIs and integration methodologies. Some may be old, built internally with no web services.

They should also consider putting something at the centre of all of these apps and the content they contain – a brain that understands content from different sources yet offers simple user features on all devices. And, crucially, do this with an understanding of context – delivery of what the user wants, when they want it based on what they are doing at the time.

>See also: The time is now to get to grips with the digital workplace and manage consumerisation

More than a consumer-like platform for the enterprise, this is something that can take valuable content – from whitepapers to sales leads – and hand it to the right person at the right time wherever they are.

If you can learn the lessons of the consumer space and create an engaging and simple-to-use application, you win – simple as that. But how can this be achieved? Organisations can’t re-build or refresh the applications they have – even if they could, would they know what to build and how? Would their decisions still be current by the time the solution is ready to go live?

Buzzwords are all very well, but in this ever-changing world of cloud and big data, consumerising the enterprise may well become the most important challenge organisations need to address – and doing it successfully might just change the game for their entire user community.


Sourced from Rory Sewell, Webinfinity

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...