Congratulations, enterprise applications, for continuing to deliver on the expectations that you’ll be clunky, expensive, difficult to use and almost impossible to keep up to date. You’d think you’d work hard to end your track record of disappointing performance, especially given the emergence of software as a service (SaaS), but somehow, you’re able to stay in the 20th century and drive both IT teams and employees crazy.
It’s funny because it's true. It’s also a shame because it doesn’t need to be this way.
We’re long past the days of software in a box, during which it was common practice for enterprises to spend months re-engineering the code of that pricy package they’d just installed to make sure their specific needs were addressed. We’ve seen over and over how these customizations end up causing huge headaches because no one can help when -- not if -- problems arise. You’d think we’d learned our lessons by now.
We also live in a world where pretty much everyone has a machine in their pocket that’s more powerful than building-sized computers were in the past. From those devices, we’re able to conduct our banking, watch our favorite TV shows, order dinner, chat with friends halfway around the world and do pretty much every other thing using compact software that’s easy to install, use and maintain.
The post-Web 2.0 universe of cloud-based consumer software was supposed to drive a revolution in business applications: The “Consumerization of the Enterprise.” But even with the proliferation of SaaS solutions, enterprise software implementations are rarely straightforward and effortless.
So why is it like this, and how do we change it? With 40 years of experience behind me, I have a few ideas:
We’re stuck in the past
When I discuss implementing a new tool like expense reporting software with enterprise customers, I am often shocked by their commitment to the way things have been. I’ll start working with a new customer, and as I make suggestions for more streamlined workflows, they’ll still want to replicate current inefficiencies. When I ask why they want to continue doing something that doesn’t work well, they often respond something like, “Because that’s the way we’ve always done it.”
So we need to get over it. But how?
Get a new perspective
When you’re immersed in the day to day, keeping your head down and getting your job done, it’s easy to slip into auto-pilot mode. There’s no right/wrong/easy/hard/better/worse. There’s just done and not done. The steps taken and tools used to get it done are someone else’s domain.
The person in charge of the software isn’t generally involved in the day to day. The only thing they know is that the job is getting done, and "If It it ain’t broke, don’t fix it." They’re too removed to realize that it is broken, and there’s no one questioning them about whether something could be done 20% faster or 10 times easier.
Neither of these stakeholders is in a position where they can see the problems. What they need is a different perspective. So when you’re looking at or deploying new solutions, I advise bringing in an objective party. Personally, I’m proud of the reputation I’ve earned for arguing with my clients on this front. I challenge every decision they make, even when I agree, because I want to make sure they really believe it’s the best choice.
Champion the benefits of change
I recently read an article that declared, “Change Imposed is Change Opposed.” It goes back to being stuck in the past. Change is stressful, and it’s hard to get people to leave their comfortable-yet-inefficient present for an unknown future. Often, business leaders are so worried about a potential uproar after a change that they don’t even try. And, again we’re stuck with the miserable software.
Getting unstuck is just a matter of educating the stakeholders on why change is the best choice and providing clarity on what is in it for them. If you can demonstrate that what once took 20 clicks now takes eight, that a task that previously took three hours now takes one, you’ll get the buy-in you need to effect change.
You’ve done this before, you can do it again.
For those of us who already enjoy low-inertia apps in our personal lives -- pretty much everyone -- shouldn’t tolerate less than this in our business lives. Yes, change can be scary and even a bit difficult at first, but if you’re getting greater usability and efficiencies along with the lower costs associated with SaaS, the value should be clear. And if there’s still reticence, just point out all of the other things you’ve changed: New coffee maker? New carpet? Definitely new computers. If organizations adapted to those changes, they can better, faster, more user-friendly software, too.
Anne Becknell is Senior Vice President of Customer Success at Chrome River.The InformationWeek community brings together IT practitioners and industry experts with IT advice, education, and opinions. We strive to highlight technology executives and subject matter experts and use their knowledge and experiences to help our audience of IT ... View Full Bio