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Designing the User-Driven Business

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The lines between consumer and business software are fading as popular mobile devices invade businesses. As a result, IT projects, solution designs, and investments are changing to better align with shifting user expectations.

The days of traditional enterprise IT are rapidly giving way to consumerized IT services, equipment, and practices that are redefining the ways companies do business. The good news is that industry pundits and those working in IT agree on the trend. The bad news is that not everyone agrees on a common definition. If you’re still thinking the consumerization of IT is synonymous with the Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) trend, buckle up. There’s a lot more that matters.

In 2011, IDC ran parallel surveys of IT executives and end users, the results of which were updated last year. One of the findings was a definite crossover between technologies used for personal and work purposes, meaning that users tap into consumer offerings at work and do more work after hours. For the enterprises IDC traditionally writes about, that translates to more collaboration between business units and IT as well as more flexible and responsive IT policies.

Sixty-four percent of consumer respondents said they were learning about technologies at home and applying what they learned at work. Sixty-one percent said they were applying what they learned at work at home. These trends directly affect user expectations. Users will do whatever they think needs to be done to get what they need – which may or may not involve IT.

Drinking Out of the Fire Hose (and Users Brought Their Own Firehose)

BYOD is, of course, part of the trend. Some organizations embraced that part of the trend early while others tried to prevent or at least delay it. Faced with the very real fact that users will use their own smartphones and tablets whether or not the company “allows” it, IT departments are learning to balance the needs of their organizations and the needs of the end users in new and rapidly-changing ways, and they have the battle scars to prove it.

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“Organizations are now putting the responsibility of device procurement in the hands of their employees,” said Shamlan Siddiqi, vice president of architecture and application development at NTT DATA, NTT’s IT services consulting arm. “The companies are saving a significant amount of capital costs in device purchases while users can use a [single] device for both personal and professional activities.”

Of course, the cost of BYOD isn’t free to organizations, Siddiqi points out. Companies still may have to invest in cloud-based systems to manage the devices, security, users, and policies.

And that’s not all.

When enterprise applications fall short of end user expectations, modern end users may find their own solutions, especially since it’s so quick, easy and often free to access cloud-based alternatives such as Google Docs, HighTail (formerly YouSendIt), Dropbox, and others. Because there are viable options with low barriers to adoption, people have developed very specific expectations about how applications should look, behave, and be delivered. They want; they download or access; and they expect to be immediately productive.

Oh, and everything should run seamlessly on whatever device the user chose. If you can order shoes from Zappos using your Amazon.com ID to avoid pesky account sign-ups, why can’t the same frictionless experience be “business as usual?” That’s the kind of question users are asking and why so many platform, UI component, security, and IT services providers are experiencing explosive revenue growth.

On-the-Go with a New Business Twist

Mobility certainly isn’t a new concept, but satisfying internal and external customers is still difficult. That’s why the companies who got into the mobile app vs. mobile site debate often decided after trial and error that both are necessary – either because not all users agree on one solution or the app and site jointly delivered a better overall experience by providing complementary functionality.

Some organizations slapped a mobile front end on existing enterprise applications with widely varying results while others decided to appify enterprise applications.

Siddiqi said his customers are increasingly building their own app stores and ecosystems rather than writing traditional .NET and Java applications because their users are accustomed to downloading apps.

“Many industries are starting to build more mobile apps using user-centered design principles,” said Siddiqi. “Retail, hospitality, travel, entertainment, and B2C-type organizations that have consumer-facing business models tend to adopt the app store ecosystem.”

Enterprise app stores can also have an in-house appeal. The development and IT departments can design a set of approved apps that employees can download at will, rather than delivering massive, monolithic applications that end up severely underutilized. Enterprise app stores allow users to pick and choose the functionality they need or want, just as with popular iOS and Android apps. But again: The enterprise apps need to look and behave like the apps downloaded for personal use or else users will choose something that better serves their desires.

“Consumers are driven by rich user experiences, the use of game dynamics, more integrated analytics, and social media in their day-to-day professional and work lives,” said Siddiqi. “The consumerization of IT trend has triggered a demand for a seamless experience among their personal multimedia uses such as games, social media, and video, and they [expect the same concept to be] applied in the corporate world.”

Toward that end, significant emphasis has been placed on providing “great user experiences” in business-to-business (B2B), business-to-consumer (B2C), government to consumer (G2C), and other contexts. But even user experience tool providers are quick to point out that aesthetics alone don’t cut it. An application’s look, feel, and behavior go hand-in-hand, which is more than a client-side problem.

“The impact is that solutions are more integrated with user-centered design principles. Emerging and disruptive technologies are being used in more creative ways to solve complex business problems,” said Siddiqi. “For example, financial services firms are starting to use microblogging to better equip financial advisors with information through real-time collaboration.”

He also said game dynamics are helping to improve employee engagement as well as provide a means of competition.

Some form of reward can increase employee engagement, and it can improve knowledge sharing. Some organizations have implemented incentives for online social behavior similar to the point systems or other accolades some social media sites provide. Some may also have added commenting, ratings, or reviews not only because users expect these capabilities but because they can provide bottom-line value to the business.

“CIOs are looking at investing in creative solutions that help solve today’s problems with trends and technologies that their consumers can use and understand,” said Siddiqi. “Once a social collaboration solution has been implemented across the organization, the most important thing is to ensure there is employee engagement. That is done through gamification principles. Adding ‘Karma Points’ or a leaderboard board can help ensure that people use the collaboration platform, generate discussions, posts, tweets, blogs, and other sources of information which in turn creates trends, keywords, sentiment upon which an organization can make sound decisions.”

Setting Priorities

What is possible is one thing; delivering it can be another. A major telecommunications equipment provider’s IT staff has been learning the hard way that just because end users demand certain things doesn’t mean they’ll actually used them.

“We’ve stumbled a bit in some areas where we give folks what they asked for but they didn’t really use it,” said one of the lead engineers. “We are figuring out who may ask for something but not use it because they don’t have the time. They have the intent but not the time so we are getting better at targeting our offerings.”

Also because solutions are affected by context, use cases can change. Take sentiment analysis for example. B2C companies are using sentiment analysis to understand what customers think about their products, services, and marketing campaigns. A B2B company like the telecommunications equipment provider can use the same kind of technology in a different context to determine how employees really feel about internal services, to identify challenges in the supply chain that may have been overlooked, or to determine how customers feel about the resolution of support cases.

While end users are not asking for sentiment analysis, it is nevertheless being used as part of the solution mix to determine what internal and external customers really want. After all, what customers say they want and what they really want may be different things. And, because so many people want so many different things, mechanisms are needed to set priorities.

In short, users have – or at least they think they have – very definite ideas about what they want but no IT organization has the resources to keep pace with every personal whim of hundreds, thousands, or millions of end users. There are common themes and patterns of adoption and feedback that can help IT navigate and prioritize the long list of possibilities. And of course clouds and cloud-based services help provide the flexibility to keep pace with the many changes that come with shifting user and organizational priorities.

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