The Consumerization of Enterprise Software

What would happen if you stopped hearing


Using software shouldn’t be a rite of passage.

People with good ideas shouldn’t stand in the shallow end as middle management defines processes based on clunky, outdated systems.

Empowerment, ease-of-use, and intuition are the guiding principles behind the consumerization of the enterprise.

Today, software is just sitting there, ready to be operated. It feels less like “technology" and more like an extension of how you complete the task.

Image via Martin’s Fulcrum Musings

IDG Enterprise research revealed that consumerization of software within the enterprise has positive impacts on the organization, including:

  • Business agility (70 percent)
  • User productivity (76 percent)
  • User satisfaction (82 percent)

Khoi Vinh, one of the most influential figures in design and web writing, wrote the following about enterprise-grade software:

“I have to wonder: what is it about the world of enterprise software that routinely produces such inelegant user experiences?”

 Who could blame him?

It wasn’t until around 2010 that enterprise software vendors even bothered paying attention to the end user. They’ve thrown in unnecessary features which have only added to the complexity of use. It’s evident why so many users have become frustrated with enterprise applications. But as more brands begin to sell direct to consumer, retailers can't afford to ignore their customers anymore.

WSJ’s recent survey revealed that enterprise software users complained about complex installations as well as clunky interfaces and functionality.

Image via Dilbert

Even Dilbert realized what had been missing!

R “Ray” Wang, CEO and principal analyst at Constellation Research, asked the audience at the AMPLIFY Festival 2011 why they disliked enterprise software. Some of the answers were:

  • it is slow
  • it is complex to use
  • it is not personal
  • it takes a long time to deploy
  • user experience always suffers

Wang pointed out that the opposite was true for consumer software.

Companies like Facebook, Google, Amazon and Microsoft have invested in a ‘no training’ approach to user experience, and finding how consumers want to use different apps.

They’ve tested hundreds of usability patterns, scrutinized what really drives engagement and how end users interact with applications. By considering all these factors, they’ve managed to develop frictionless consumer-facing applications. 

End User Expectations Meet Enterprise I.T.

Rapid influx of user-friendly consumer software has fundamentally changed user expectations within the enterprise.

Software vendors are being asked to adapt to user experiences to align their products with the needs of modern enterprise personnel, and it’s happening, almost like faith.

Due to these expectations:

  • New enterprise software vendors like Trello, HipChat and Slack have invested in building user experiences that closely relate to the look, functionality and feel of consumer software.
  • Enterprise software firms are acquiring customer-centric vendors which is enabling them to mimic the behavior of the user. Entrepreneurs from the consumer market are stepping in to fill the void left by legacy and organization-centric software vendors.

Young software vendors are accelerating the consumerization of enterprise-grade software by focusing on these key areas:

1. Bring Your Own Device

Users bringing their own devices to the workplace is a growing component of enterprise I.T. consumerization. BYOD (bring-your-own-device) is enabling the enterprise staff to define the nature of apps and services they need to work efficiently.

This has given rise to enterprise app stores, which allow enterprise consumers to download and request applications via a self-serving interface without submitting a ticket, while the I.T. department controls security through mobile device management systems like Casper.

IDC’s survey from last year revealed the benefits organizations expect to gain from enterprise app deployments.

Image via IDC

But these benefits from mobile deployments can only be achieved through an intuitive and simple user experience.

Just like users of consumer-facing apps, enterprise app users prefer responsiveness, contextual awareness and smooth functionality over heavy-coded features.

For example, Slack offers the following option to its mobile users:

Eliminating the need to type complicated passwords by offering to email users a “magic link” is an unusual but clever way to delight users by reducing the login time.

 2. Specialist Tools for Specific Jobs

Consider the drive of consumerization in enterprise SaaS and ecommerce software. Instead of having one clunky piece of software that does a little of everything to varying degrees of quality, you have ZenDesk Enterprise for help desk support, Buffer for Business to manage social media accounts and KISSMetrics Enterprise for onboarding new clients.

By serving the users - not the managers - consumerized enterprise tools enable employees to choose the right software without relying on a special committee to give recommendations.

Image via SlideShare

 User-centric ecommerce technologies provide enterprise simpler and more precise options to better understand buyer needs, see traffic trends, and gain business intelligence without requiring the user to go through lengthy onboarding processes.

Because the costs are typically less than building in-house, and you’re not required to spend “maintenance” costs on I.T. (which Gartner reports as being responsible for up to 80% of I.T budgets), you open up a considerable portion of budget that can be allocated for research and development. This is the primary reason why the enterprise is expected to spend more on advanced applications and analytics over the next few years.

3. Software as a Service

SaaS and other cloud-based solution providers have started to design specifically to appeal to disgruntled business users looking for simpler apps that can be acquired economically and implemented more quickly.

Just like BYOD apps, SaaS software can be downloaded on-demand to different devices and therefore appeals to the user’s appetite for rapid-time-to-value functionality. Salesforce was among the first companies to offer CRM as a pure SaaS product, developing the concept that companies don’t have to buy physical hardware or pay big licensing fees to support growing processes.

Image via SlideShare

There have been many recent companies playing this card, and end-user expectations are supporting their transition to the enterprise sector.

At the same time, more and more consumer tools are finding their way into the enterprise sector according to an IDG Enterprise survey various SaaS tools that perform a multitude of tasks are being used with or without approval from I.T..

Image via IDG Enterprise

Smart SaaS vendors are capitalizing on this trend of changing expectations and what is possible in enterprise through simpler architecture.

What’s intriguing is that consumerized SaaS companies are growing exponentially with user-aimed functionality without focusing on profitability. Even though the market has become saturated over the years, billions of dollars have been raised, giving vendors the resources to continue consumerized software development for years the come. 

For example, take a look at this data from the Social+Capital Partnership on high-growth SaaS companies.

Image via SlideShare

Slack’s growth from ground up has been quick compared to the other fast growing SaaS companies in enterprise: Box and Yammer.

Slack has built a consumerized product on top of a freemium business model while putting emphasis on how quickly and efficiently a user can perform tasks using said offering. As such, most of the innovation is coming from vendors that focus on the quality of user engagement rather than the scale of robust functionality.

Dealing With the Disruption

When software is optimized for the user experience, enterprise-grade or not, as long as it helps the user perform the task more efficiently, it will always win the heart and mind of the end user. There is no competition.

Changes that took I.T. departments a long time to consider are being put on their roadmaps by end users who are now in charge. As a result, the role of I.T. is shifting away from optimization and management of assets such as servers and software towards embracing new business opportunities.

I.T. has to deal with disruption of consumer technology, as it cannot be stopped.

Results of PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Digital IQ Survey indicated that at 100 of the organizations ranked as “top performers” by PwC, I.T. controls less than 50 percent of enterprise technology expenditures. At these companies users evaluate and use software and I.T. solutions on the ground without command-and-control I.T. hindering their decision-making.

The takeaway? Rather than acting as a mere gatekeeper of technology, it has to become more of a business enabler of enterprise-level tools that streamline workflows while reducing user barriers.

Image via Computacenter

To help embrace consumerization of software in your enterprise and promote a user-defined workplace, consider the following pointers:

  • Accept the inevitable: No matter what policies you enact to keep consumer software away from the enterprise, employees are going to find ways to use them at work. So instead of adopting the “no” mentality, encourage staff to share their preferred software with the I.T., and track alternatives built for the enterprise with the same usability. For instance, employees that use Dropbox can be suggested a tool like Cubby, which offers the same functionality and interaction dashboard, but stands out in terms of security by granting a separate encryption key to each user.
  • Learn from the user: It some instances I.T. can lack information on certain technologies that end-users prefer to be more productive. To spur company-wide productivity, you need to think less and less about sanctioning software use, and more and more about how to leverage consumer technologies to conduct company operations. Employees will choose the software they love, rather than work with the software that I.T. forced on them. Asana, Basecamp and other software are all a part of this trend. So instead of worrying about how to stop the disruption, you should learn why employees use these tools in the first place.
  • Become an early adopter: By adopting new technologies early, you can make users come to you when they want to use something like Google Hangouts or Trello. When they do, you can collaborate with them on compliance and security to minimize the risks tagged with consumerized software.

Apart from following these principles, you have to engage every single department in your organization. Delegating some responsibilities to other departments can free I.T. up to complete more strategic goals.

The Opportunity for Consumerized Technology is Massive

This is a critical time for the enterprise, as ongoing consumerization meets I.T.

Instead of buying your head in the sand, you can decrease your risk exposure by taking steps to address potential concerns of consumerization. There is a huge advantage for organizations that are working with I.T. to overcome pain points with regard to loss of data protection and controlled software.

That way, you approach consumerized technology in a positive way, and enable faster access to services and software employees need to drive business value. The enterprise benefits when users are successful at using the software.


About The Author

Dan Virgillito is a storytelling specialist, blogger and writer who helps digital startups get more engagement and business through online content.

About the author

Dan Virgillito

Dan Virgillito is a storytelling specialist, blogger and writer who helps digital startups get more engagement and business through online content.

Check out Dan Virgillito’s work