Enterprise software is going through a massive change.
Up until few years ago, it was considered to be completely different than consumer apps. The following reasons made enterprise software unique (read: weird):
Why is Enterprise Software So Weird?
1. The buyer is not the user
In the case of enterprise software, the buyer is often not a user and not even managing the users (but instead managing the managers of the users…). The decision is made by C-level management together with the IT managers – all of them are not going to use the software on a daily basis, which means their interests and needs are different than what actual users would expect, and as such – the selected software might not be the perfect one in the eyes of the actual users.
2. The buyer has multiple personality disorder
When you buy an app for your personal use – you know exactly what you are looking for. For enterprise companies it’s more complicated than that; In order to properly define the requirements, a company needs to establish a project team. Teams represent different people with different needs; prioritization becomes a challenge, sometimes it’s THE main challenge, and when you can’t say what’s more important – you look for ways to do everything.
And that’s what enterprise software does best: “everything”. It has options, parameters, API’s, plug-ins, add-ons, apps, integration-hooks, customizations and more. An “all-in-one” software can do a lot, but it often suffers from a poor user experience.
3. Rich functionality before usability
Another side effect of a wish list that ended up being too long is that enterprise companies often focus their software evaluation process on checking “what does it do?” rather than examining “how does it do it?”.
Usability, overall experience, delightful moments, efficiency, stability – are often being left behind as the primary objective becomes checking as many checkboxes as possible in the endless wish list even if they are partially right.
The bottom line? Enterprise apps can do much more than consumer apps can, but they are way more complicated and less fun to use.
4. The buyer buys more than the software
When it comes to enterprise software, the buyer buys 3 things: a software, a service, and an insurance policy.
The software part is obvious, the service is something that stays for long and often involves support, implementation services, coding, integration, etc. – those are all part of a long term relationship between the customer and the vendor and they often tip the balance towards a certain software regardless to its’ functionality.
The third part is the insurance policy. Everyone knows the phrase; “You’ll never get fired for buying IBM” (excluding Lotus Notes…) but in reality it’s not just IBM. It’s very hard for young, small, innovative companies to succeed in the enterprise world because they cannot provide the same kind of insurance policy that bigger companies do.
Shadow IT to the Rescue
Some call it Shadow IT, others call it BYOA (Bring your own app), or another variation of IT consumerization, but the phenomena is here and growing steadily: cloud-based tools and apps, often delivered as freemium solutions, modern, web-based, mobile, focused on specific functional areas and great user experience – are penetrating the enterprise through the back-door.
That back-door is the employees. They realize they can actually gain more productivity by using simple cloud-based tools than using their own complicated IT tools. And since the modern tools are very easy to use, and come for free – there is nothing to prevent them from trying them out. Once a tool was successfully piloted, it spreads very quickly within the organization.
Shadow IT apps are easy to define:
- They are lightweight: they focus on solving specific niche, but they do it well.
- They are super-simple to use and provide great user experience.
- They are ridiculously easy to on-board (1 minute registration, no training needed)
- They are available through web, and mobile – what makes it very easy to install or access even without involving IT.
- They are fun to use
Shadow IT truly shines when it comes to mobility.
The reason is that many enterprise legacy systems simply failed to create a decent mobile version. This led the way for many smaller apps to provide mobile alternatives for those tools (either by providing a compatible mobile app or by creating a new fresh service with a mobile app). For years we have seen apps compatible with salesforce, MS Office, Exchange and others. Giants such as Microsoft and IBM started their mobile journey very late in the game and they did it mostly through acquisitions. They are still few years behind.
The Dark Side of Shadow IT
In most cases employees using their software of choice, end up being more satisfied with their overall productivity, but not everything is positive – there are some negative aspects to Shadow IT:
- Wasted time and investment of non-IT workers evaluating different tools, reviewing alternatives etc.
- Inconsistent business logic across different tools
- High risks of data loss, leaks and security holes
- Lack of control by the management and IT
What’s Coming Next?
While I cannot say Enterprise Software is dead – I can definitely say it is changing dramatically.
As Shadow IT presents a true alternative to old-fashion enterprise tools, software vendors are reinventing themselves to create cloud-based, modern solutions which are simple to implement, easier to use, and mobile friendly.
Enterprise software vendors which are not able to adapt themselves to the new world will cease to exist.
Others are trying to create their next generation products but they have a few challenges before being successful in doing so:
- They have to think differently and act differently: cloud, mobile, lightweight functionality. this is not trivial.
- They have to put more weight on usability.
- They have to shift from on-premise software to cloud – and this means a serious financial risk.
A company that does it very well lately is Microsoft. The latest versions of Office are simply amazing; they remain solid and features rich, but they are truly mobile, they run over the cloud, they work across all platforms, and they are fun to use.
But there are not so many companies that can do what Microsoft can do – the real question is what will smaller software companies do in order to remain relevant, and will they have the knowledge, mindset and financial strength to do it successfully within a reasonable time.