In case you forgot, most people are not in the technology business
Most people do not create software and information technology for a living. (This makes the world a lot more interesting than it would be if we all did so.) Instead, they work on providing the goods and services we all use everyday to live complete lives: housing, medical care, energy, food, entertainment, etc. Too many people in the technology business forget this. As a result, they focus on designing and delivering technology from the perspective of technologists. This tends to create hard-to-use products than can often miss their mark. If you do not believe this, take a look at all the comedy sketches and commercials that make fun of software crashes and that not-so-popular tech support guy.
We need to design technology for people who are not technologists
When we design technology, we need to start with the following questions:
- Who do we intend will use it?
- Why will they want to do this?
- How will this make their life — or what they do for a living — better?
This is not a new concept. It has been around for years in many formats. The Chasm Group calls this product positioning. However, they did not invent the concept. The Rationale Unified Process (RUP) calls this the Problem Statement (and airs it with a Solution Position). Most of my friends in Marketing call this Market Positioning.
When we start with these questions, we build “Killer Aps” that are wildly successful. Many software and information technology examples come to mind, from WYSIWYG word processors to TiVo to iTunes.
This is just as important in the enterprise space
Often I hear people say that the above questions are great for consumer products but do not apply in the enterprise space. I am always confused when I hear this… Do people mean that we should not design enterprise products with a focus on enabling business (and public) leaders to make their day-to-day jobs running their companies and agencies easier, more intuitive and more productive? Just look at how successful SalesForce.com was at doing this. (Remember their “No Software” campaign tag line?)
What happens when we design enterprise products around the technology (instead of the business)? We create whole new problems when trying to solve old ones. When do know this has happened? When you hear things like “you need to do [X] because [System Y] requires this,” and start to see job postings for people to run System Y — or worse — enter data into (and run reports from) System Y. Why would you ever build something so non-intuitive that you need to create a whole new profession just to operate it?
We can avoid this in the enterprise space by building “business solutions”
I coined the term “Business Service” (in the context of software and information technology) about six months ago:
Busi•ness So•lu•tions |’biznis səˈloō sh əns | (noun)
- A reusable configuration of technology designed specifically to solve an enterprise problem (or address an enterprise need)
- That does not require its end users to understand how the technology is designed, built or adminstrated
- Which directly solves a business problems of the enterprise (or meets and unforeseen need).
I found this definition to be a good litmus test: technologies that are Business Solutions support their customers’ businesses, technologies that are not need to be supported by their customers.
What happens when we build Business Solutions?
- We generate huge ROIs
- We make our colleagues’ (or customers’) professions easier
- We build something soon businesses cannot do without
I challenge all of my fellow enterprise technologists to build Business Solutions
Note: I am currently CIO and Vice President of Technology at Neighborhood America. We have codified this concept into the term Business Services (you can read Gartner’s discussion of this concept, here)