09:06 AM
Himanshu Sareen
Himanshu Sareen

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

using more up-to-date technologies than you might have been able to provide. In some cases, BYOD policies have even resulted in decreased hardware costs, since they shift the cost of the device to the employee.

The important thing to note about BYOD policies is that they require trade-offs. Even though they can increase workflows and decrease costs, they also require increased security efforts and demand platform flexibility.

4. Keep on innovating
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 at how 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.

5. Plug in multiple platforms
Excel is for spreadsheets, Outlook is for email, and Word is for word processing.

While it's great to have a sense of specialization in software, the newest wave of workplace IT is seeking to knock down the barriers between different software programs. The popular new communication platform Slack, for instance, might look like a simple chat tool, but its real strength comes in its platform integration. By allowing users to send anything from Google Drive files, to comments from Twitter, to in-line SoundCloud links, Slack is catering to the way that people work by streamlining content sharing.

By integrating multiple platforms in one place, you can simplify employee workflows in a way that doesn't compromise the integrity of your software on an individual level.

6. Find better ways to connect your employees
One of the most important parts of an efficient workflow is smooth interaction between team members. Some of the most successful workplace programs have been Chatter and Yammer, which strive to increase productivity by making business more social. While they might have their roots in consumer social networks like Facebook, these programs show how much room for innovation is still left for collaboration in the workplace.

Adding more features is an admirable goal, but ultimately, the best software prioritizes employee workflows over raw specs. The consumerization trend is all about cutting the fat and increasing accessibility without sacrificing usability. And regardless of whether or not BYOD or social platforms are right for your business, the consumerization trend has a wealth of ideas for anyone hoping to improve their enterprise software.

Do you need a deeper leadership bench? Send your most promising leaders to our InformationWeek Leadership Summit, Sept. 30 in New York City, for a day of peer learning and strategic speakers.

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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