Tag Archives: customer service

Evolution At Work: Why Traditional Enterprise Tech Will Get Killed By Consumer-oriented Products

Article first published as Evolution At Work: Why Traditional Enterprise Tech Will Get Killed By Consumer-oriented Products on Technorati.

Today’s Post-PC, Web 2.0 Era is causing the consumer and enterprise tech worlds to collide. In this battle, the DNA of consumer tech positions it to displace “dinosaur” Enterprise mindsets.

Three of the most thought-provoking articles I have read this year on enterprise technology have shined a light on a new, emerging phenomenon: how the rapid advancement of Web 2.0, cloud computing, tablet and smart phone technologies has opened the door to allow consumer-oriented products to displace traditional enterprise technology:

  • R “Ray” Wang, CEO of Constellation Research, explored this from the perspectives of speed, innovation and freedom of choice, writing about the emergence of consumer technologies that meet robust enterprise needs – fast, cheaper and more flexibility.
  • Matt Rossof, in an interview with Andreessen-Horowitz partner Peter Levin, discussed this from the end user experience, asking why people should not get the same ease of use from enterprise tech that they do from the products they use outside of work.
  • Thomas Wailgum, writer on enterprise for CIO.com, highlighted the poor customer experiences that can arise after “vendor lock-in”, questioning the business rationale to accept this in light of influx consumer-style, on-demand options now available.

It does not take much research to see the increased use of consumer tech for business. Many of us now can use personal smartphones and tablets to read our corporate email or Skype to conduct free, easy videoconferences. App Stores have thousands of business productivity apps we can install instantly. Media giants like CNN use WordPress. Even the US government now uses Drupal, a GSA-managed App Store and Google Office via the cloud.

Why This Is Happening Now

Technology innovation is not new; it happens all the time. What has changed is the emergence of a whole new set of innovations that focus on making it much, much easier to deploy and integrate robust, advanced technology. Three particular developments stand out:

1. Cloud Computing. The Cloud has turned computing into a utility. Fortune 500 firms, SMEs, startups and even individuals can setup business-class environments with equal ease – without the need for large investment in capital or specialized teams.

2. Web 2.0. The Web 2.0 (and Mobile 2.0) movement has made integration open and market-driven. You can go to an App Store and find thousands of applications that work together rather than managing—and maintaining—integration projects yourself.

3. The Post-PC Era. Consumer “off the shelf” smartphones have changed how many people view computing—at work or at home. As a result, they are now creating demand for a new class of business application, one that deliverable over the cloud and Web 2.0.

The Result: Consumer and Enterprise Worlds in Collision

dinosaur-extinct-250pxsq1In the past, the enterprise and consumer technology worlds rarely touched. Consumer tech was in the household (or consumer-facing websites). Enterprise tech was on-premise. The resource-intensive requirements to deploy and integrate business technology served as a barrier between the consumer and enterprise technology words.

Now that barrier is gone. Clouds, Web 2.0, smartphones, tablets and other dual-use innovations have created a “land bridge” between these two worlds. Non-technologists can now implement many projects without specialized technology teams and large budgets. They are regularly doing this based on their personal (i.e., consumer-based) experiences with technology. In more and more businesses, enterprise and consumer technologies are competing head-to-head.

Why Consumer-oriented Tech Will Win Out

Companies who build consumer-style products evolved in a fundamentally different environment than those companies that have evolved in the world of the “locked-in” enterprise agreement. As a result, they have three critical “genetic” differences:

1. Another Choice Is Always Available. Consumer-facing product companies cannot rely on multi-year enterprise agreements to retain their customers. If customers are not happy, they will leave now – not in four years. Companies fighting in this intense environment are used to working daily to keep customers happy enough not to not only keep using their products, but also to recommend them to their friends.

2. Support Is a Cost Center Not a Revenue Center. In the consumer world, it is very hard to charge for support. It is equally hard to sell products that require lots of setup and training time to use. As a result, consumer-oriented companies design products to minimize the need for customer service. This is vastly different than many enterprise companies, who view extended service and support agreements as a key revenue stream.

3. Integration Is Free, Open and Instant. Products that easily share contacts, photos, updates and other useful information are used more and more often; products that don’t fall by the wayside. Integration is inherently open, instant, free and simple. It does not require complex partner agreements, extensive training and long integration timelines typical of legacy enterprise systems.

These differences are not superficial; they are embedded in the very “DNA” of the missions, products and teams of successful consumer-oriented companies. They provide enormous competitive advantages in comparison to those with “enterprise lock-in ‘dinosaur’ mindsets.” Freedom of choice will beat lack of choice. Pleasing user experiences will trump frustrating ones. Companies like Salesforce, 37 Signals, DropBox, Box.Net, Atlassian, Google and Apple are displacing “traditional” enterprise vendors in many corporations – even at Fortune 50 ones like Proctor & Gamble. However, this is just the beginning: in ten years the lines between consumer and enterprise tech will be blurred beyond recognition.

BYOT: Treat your employees like consumers

More and more companies are asking employees to “Bring Your Own Tools” (i.e., laptops and PCs) or “Telecom” (mobile and smartphones). Consumer tech is advancing so quickly, and is now so interconnected that this should be the norm—not the exception—if companies want happy, productive employees.

People are frustrated with their office tech

There are only two kinds of technology in the world. The first kind is the technology that you choose to use; the second is technology you are forced to use. At home, we have a tremendous amount of choice between desktops, laptops, tablets, mobile phones, etc. At work, we have little choice.

We have all heard the jokes (often daily) about how bad office tech is. It is usually less productive to use than the tech we buy with our own money. It is frequently out-of-date. It is often not suited to how we individually work: some people go from meeting to meeting, needing something that boots instantly, some want big screens, others extreme portability.

The is a by-product of centralized enterprise management

The frustration we see with our technology at work is not intended. It is the result of the inherent delays of centralized enterprise management.

At home, if you want a new smartphone you go to the store, try it out, and buy it if you like it. However, if you are an enterprise IT manager you need to wait for enterprise service providers to ramp up and support it… then wait until your prior purchase contracts are ending… then get bids and budget approval… then on-board the new provider, setting up support structures… all in-time to be a whole technology generation behind. This cannot compete with the consumer tech model. (Have you ever seen a centrally planned model beat a purely competitive one?)

For basic employee tech this is no longer needed

I know, at this point you enterprise IT managers are raising the need for standardization to guarantee compatibility, support Service Level Agreements (SLAs), etc. However, this is an argument for the technology world of the past.

In the old days (I am old enough to have done what I am about to bash), we had lots and lots of desktop software to install and support. In those days, you could not: provide rich interactive experiences with standard browsers; deliver software via SaaS; run applications anywhere in reliable, easy-to-install VMs; plug your smartphone into your enterprise exchange server at the Verizon or Apple store; etc. All of this required tailored systems engineering and strict configuration management. However, times have changed. These services are all consumer-ready, integrated “out of the box” and proven at very high consumer adoption rates.

Its time to let treat employees like consumers

happy_tech_140pxwWhile it is important to maintain enterprise standards and controls for the back office—be they on-premise servers or managed service agreements with external partners—it is time to treat the front office like a storefront.

Publish a list of operating systems, browsers, wireless cards, and mobile platforms that are compatible with your back office systems and let your employees consumers bring their own tech. Provide an annual stipend they can be reimbursed for. Let them pick from this what works best for their daily work. They will be happier and more productive. (You may even attract new creative, productive employees.)

This is not as hard or scary as some think

Yes, you will have to provide online document storage and mandate anti-virus and backup services. Yes, you will have an “uncontrolled” variety of tech people will be using (and asking for your help with). However, this is not a scary as you think.

Business-to-consumer (B2C) tech companies have been doing this successfully for years. As they cannot perfectly control their customer’s behavior, they do not try to do so. Instead they build enough flexibility into their tech, ensuring it will it work for 99.XX% of customers who follow their published “minimum system requirements” guidelines.

Not only does this model work; it works better. I have looked at end user cost of support numbers for small and large companies, for support of external and internal users. In all cases the command-and-control-styled internal computing numbers were worse. Giving employees choice doesn’t just make them happy; it will also make your CFO happy.

It is also flexible and “future-proof”

Once you let go of the centrally controlled enterprise management model (for basic employee tech), you get a whole set of new benefits. You are no longer held hostage by remove a lot of dependencies on specific vendors, platforms and service providers. You no longer have multi-year delays planning and negotiating adoption of technologies (that usually evolve in leaps and bounds every 12 months). Your employees will pick the leading products in the market, as they prove themselves appealing. Those who do not want change will protect themselves from it. Those who are early adopters will champion innovation in your organization.

BYOT lets the fast-moving innovation of the consumer tech market work for you, not against you.