6 Ways To Consumerize IT Without Dumbing Down - InformationWeek

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IT Leadership // Enterprise Agility
Commentary
9/23/2014
09:06 AM
Himanshu Sareen
Himanshu Sareen
Commentary
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6 Ways To Consumerize IT Without Dumbing Down

Here's how to make enterprise software more user-friendly while also maintaining its capabilities and security.

The enterprise and consumer spheres of technology have always mixed and mingled, but the direction of influence has been in a constant state of flux, especially in recent years. Where business technology used to be the main vehicle for technological progress, we've seen a tremendous spike in innovations coming from the consumer space.

In the traditional paradigm, the idea of making a complex product conform to consumer usability standards has been thought of as a technological "dumbing-down."

But as platforms like Salesforce, Yammer, and Workday continue to demonstrate, increasing ease-of-use doesn't have to decrease software capability. We can have our cake and eat it too.

[Can you relate to these real-life digital business problems? Read 3 Meltdown Moments In Digital Strategy]

Here are six ways you can consumerize your own IT—without dumbing it down.

1. Don't slouch on security
One of the concerns about consumerization is that it might eschew security in favor of access and convenience. Sure, cloud data might be easier to utilize, but it might also pose a larger risk for your business. Likewise, "Bring Your Own Device" policies have been somewhat difficult to adopt because of the security holes they can poke in an enterprise software infrastructure.

Because of the urgency and reality of security concerns, it's important to make sure that whenever you attempt to consumerize your software, you keep your own system integrity as the top priority. While you shouldn't let these concerns hinder your technological ambitions, it's best to view security as a prerequisite for any effective enterprise platform.

2. Focus on good design and a smooth user experience
Smart devices have changed the way we look at software. Gone are the days when cluttered interfaces and user experiences pass as acceptable. If it's not user-friendly, it's not optimal.

Usually when we think about business software, we think in terms of features. While features are a great rhetorical tool for outlining the specific things that make your software notable, it's important to remember that employees don't work in terms of features. They just want software that helps make their job easier.

One of the most important ways that consumer tech has affected the enterprise is that users now understand what an elegant, intuitive UI looks like. By focusing on quality UX and clean design, you can make your software much more accessible and productive -- without alienating your power users.

3. Use BYOD to increase accessibility
One of the reasons why BYOD has become such an important trend is because of the way it caters to employees' natural workflows. People find it less jarring to bring their own personal devices to work than it is to switch constantly between work and personal devices. While there's been concern about the blurring of the lines between work and life, the truth is that people can still separate the two in ways that enhance both.

By opening up your IT to the possibilities of BYOD, you'll start seeing some instant benefits, such as increased productivity and improved morale. By allowing employees to use their platforms of choice, you accommodate for their preferred workflows and, in general, will find that your employees are

Himanshu Sareen is responsible for the strategic development of Icreon Tech, which specializes in IT consulting, application development for the web and mobile, digital marketing, custom software development, and design and usability. Sareen founded Icreon in 2000 ... View Full Bio
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TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
9/23/2014 | 1:23:12 PM
Strive being the key word
If Chatter and Yammer are most successful because they STRIVE to increase productivity, this social stuff has a long way to go.

I'd like to see a study where someone even proves they get ROI on subscriptions for Yammer. This is a leap of faith, not a proven thing. My cousin works for Microsoft and they use Yammer. I've never heard him say it changed anything for him.
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
9/23/2014 | 3:19:03 PM
Re: Strive being the key word
You're right, social networking platforms like Yammer and Chatter are difficult to quantify on an ROI scale. But I've seen them improve team rapport and communication, and speed up workflows. When people communicate better they tend to be happier at work and more productive. "Leap of faith" is a good way to describe integrating Yammer. You go in knowing it'll probably improve worker communication/collaboration, and the natural progression is that measurable productivity gains will follow. But there are no guarantees.
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
9/23/2014 | 3:42:24 PM
Re: Strive being the key word
#2 is one of the most powerful areas IT can thrive -- bringing consumer-grade experiences to business tools. It's about effective UX, but most of that comes from really knowing what end users want and need to do. An action that takes 1-click versus 3-clicks makes a big difference in people's work day.
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
9/24/2014 | 7:46:26 AM
Re: Strive being the key word
A well thought out UI is incredibly powerful. I have to say it might not be the most powerful for each project but I've seen quite a few applications out there written in house that obviously had no input from the end users.  The very logical placing of functions into boxes the way IT would do things often has nothing to do with workflow processes or how the people doing the job actually use the tools.  One thing that I'm happy to see is more enterprise applications with simpler UIs similar to those we see on consumer applications.  Most people only work at a couple levels of complexity on anything, shoving every tool you have at them won't make them use it so giving them the top level up front and a way to access deeper levels of functionality usually gives you a better  response from your users.
SachinEE
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SachinEE,
User Rank: Ninja
9/25/2014 | 12:34:51 AM
Re: Strive being the key word
I think UI's should be targeted according to market use. If a particular type of market likes to use UIs with developer perks then UIs launched should be of that type. Other than that they will be given the basic construct of the UI and then they can upgrade as and when they like.
yalanand
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yalanand,
User Rank: Ninja
9/26/2014 | 12:24:00 PM
Re: Strive being the key word
@SachinEE: Dumbing down of the first launch of the software is not preferable. Many people would not be able to connect with the software if it is dumbed down. For example, if you show the beta test of the software having 100 different things, then you release the original software with 60 things just because "everyone must have the same thing and can upgrade as and when they like" may be deal breaking.
yalanand
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yalanand,
User Rank: Ninja
9/26/2014 | 12:26:45 PM
Re: Strive being the key word
@SaneIT: Yes, a well thought out UI solves most customization and add-on problems. Also a better developed UI helps the device run smoother and give a powerful experience. Since the reputation of UIs are becoming bigger and better with android and windows and iOS in the play, everybody wants UIs to be of that standard. I think IT has a new job of keeping their score. Too low score and they may be looking at a shift of consumers from that particular product (software) to a different software.
SunitaT0
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SunitaT0,
User Rank: Ninja
9/27/2014 | 4:25:45 AM
Re: Strive being the key word
@yalanand: Competition in IT was always serious and this "keeping score" only makes things a bit more interesting, where consumers can select (like they always have) what kind of accesories they like in the software and if that satisfies their need. Also most consumers do not buy softwares based on the cost, they buy software based on less complexity, visually easy on the eyes and accessibility to the user. Most users would not differentiate between a software that costs $99 with a one that costs $150 if the reviews are good and it is visually stunning.
batye
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batye,
User Rank: Ninja
10/1/2014 | 12:23:50 AM
Re: Strive being the key word
interesting point, but I would like to ad, I think this days everyone keep forgeting about QA/Software testing...
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
9/23/2014 | 4:09:46 PM
Re: Strive being the key word
I guess I see workflow as crossing over into what ERP/business systems do. I program that all the time. So I never looked at Yammer as a better way to do workflow, versus what I could build with existing tools.

I see Yammer as a tool for really big companies to find people who have expertise in an area you have a question. I don't really call that workflow, just an efficient Yellow Pages. That's really all I considered it capable of.

To me, workflow is when you put in PO that needs approval. That approval should be routed to appropriate supervisors screen/email to approve/deny. Yammer doesn't enter PO's, so how can it do workflow of them?

That's the concept I'm struggling with in tools like this.
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
9/24/2014 | 9:32:56 AM
Re: Strive being the key word
I really like your emphasis on workflow TerryB -- that's the hard stuff, the stuff that takes really understanding what employees or customers want to do. Stressing UI can give the wrong idea that it's all a design/appearance challenge, but the challenge is really understanding that deep, complete experience.  
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
9/23/2014 | 2:42:41 PM
Workflow
"...the best software prioritizes employee workflows over raw specs." So true, yet how many of you feel that even a few of your enterprise apps truly respect your everyday workflow?
SachinEE
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SachinEE,
User Rank: Ninja
9/25/2014 | 12:26:47 AM
Security and interface
Any kind of cloud consumerism can be addressed using the term "security" and "interface" which are important to the cloud's and hence the company's survival. Having a good security structure alone means half the war has been won in an age where malicious users (hackers) are lurking everywhere. Good security=Good reputation=Good business. Security alone can make or break a company (when it comes to IT companies).
zerox203
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zerox203,
User Rank: Ninja
9/25/2014 | 1:13:04 AM
Re: 6 Ways To Consumerize IT Without Dumbing Down
This is all very well-taken, Himanshu. "Conzumarization" is no longer really an optional idea, and in fact, you could even say it's not a trend anymore - it's just the way we do business. Maybe some niche organizations (I'm thinking gov't contractors with security needs, etc.) can afford to say 'we have a way of doing things that we're not going to change'.  Everybody else can't afford to. BYOD is the main culprit, but you're right to point out that the real issue is the conceps that are at work there, and the bleed down to all levels of work at the company.

I hear what you're saying on the social media/social apps front though, TerryB. Some people just don't want to use tools like that, and that's fine. To me, that's exactly what 'workflow' means - the way people do their jobs on a day to day basis. If apps like that aren't part of your day-to-day use, then they're not part of your 'workflow' (and there is a good point in not forcing it). Still, Chris's example is perfect - how many programs do you know where a feature you never use is right up in the front, and a feature you use every day is hidden away. That's what 'bad workflow' means to me.
batye
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batye,
User Rank: Ninja
10/1/2014 | 12:25:01 AM
Re: 6 Ways To Consumerize IT Without Dumbing Down
could not agree more, I see the same trend as it no longer a option... it is a must have...
SunitaT0
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SunitaT0,
User Rank: Ninja
9/27/2014 | 1:09:58 AM
Connect with the software
"The paradigm has shifted to the point where enterprise software is now taking its innovation cues from consumer software. But businesses can still be innovators.

As recent platforms like Asana, Box, and Domo show, the enterprise can benefit immensely from trends in consumer software. But copy-pasting features from the latest popular apps won't cut it. It's more important to look athow these trends are connecting people with their peers, their data, and their work—and then move on from there.

By distilling recent consumer trends down to the intrinsic value they provide, you can innovate your own IT in a way that streamlines your workflows without dumbing them down."


Precisely as the author point out, innovation comes from monitoring the needs of consumers and realizing what kind of features makes consumers feel closer to the software. For example, people are flocking to Ello because it is ad-free and we control information that is related to ourselves. Sooner or later facebook will have its time done and ad-free social networking sites will take over.
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
9/30/2014 | 7:22:20 AM
Re: Connect with the software
Asana, Box and Domo are good examples.  While they are very easy to use and the end user can get up to speed with them very quickly the holes they punch in corporate data protection policies can be frightening.  Even with Enterprise accounts it can be tough to manage where the files are copied and who really has access.  This type of bring your own service model means that IT departments need to be looking at similarly simple systems to provide the same functionality while keeping control of company data.
batye
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50%
batye,
User Rank: Ninja
10/1/2014 | 12:22:15 AM
Re: Connect with the software
could not agree more this days everyone in departments try to look at simple easy to manage solution...
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