Business IT Vendors Failing To Meet User Needs, Google Exec Says - InformationWeek

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6/22/2006
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Business IT Vendors Failing To Meet User Needs, Google Exec Says

Consumer technology developers are setting the pace for IT usability, Girouard says in an MIT conference keynote.

Business software developers have done a lousy job of providing technology that meets the needs of most users, according to Dave Girouard, VP & general manager of Google Enterprise. They could learn a lesson or two from consumer technology developers.

In a keynote speech at the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium Wednesday, Girouard argued that most information technology used within businesses today is designed by and for experts and fails to meet the needs of everyday users. IT is built for businesses, "not for humans," Girouard said. And ongoing "innovation" in enterprise applications only adds to IT complexity, making it "less usable over time to most employees" and providing less value, he said. "Innovation shouldn't come at the expense of simplicity."

Business applications often require a great deal of training and expertise to use effectively. "It doesn't have to be that way," he said, contrasting the standard business application user interface with the Apple iPod's simple user interface. "Consumer technology is really what's driving information technology today," he said.

The usability factor is critical because workers today are increasingly self-directed innovators who need access to more information than employees of even just 10 years ago, Girouard said. But information in corporate IT systems is often locked up in silos and difficult to access.

Girouard said some consumer-focused Web applications--and not surprisingly, he included Google among them--do a better job of meeting user needs. He said he wasn't advocating giving workers free reign to access any Web application or Web site outside a company's firewalls. "Google doesn't come down on the side of letting people use whatever they want. Businesses are businesses," he said. But companies must provide options that let innovative employees work in the way they're most productive, he said.

Google has raised user expectations for making information access simple, Girouard said. "I like to think of it as an 'uber-command line interface' to the world." And business and IT managers need to pay attention because "information really is at the core of competitiveness," he said.

Simplicity drives adoption and adoption implies value, Girouard said, imploring business and IT managers to focus on the end user, "and all else will follow."

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