Going social: the evolution of enterprise applications

Many businesses around the world are being challenged with difficult economic conditions at home and more demanding and competitive markets abroad. Global operations have brought their own challenges, with international supply chains and dispersed virtual teams driving the need for the process of collecting and using business information to be as simple and easy as possible.

social network

As business gets tougher and businesses more complex, the IT applications and systems that support the organisation and its operations need to do the opposite. Business applications in particular need to become more instinctive and easy to use for every employee, no matter their level in the organisation or their level of technical ability.

This also means that businesses should think about usability when selecting their enterprise applications. Users who are comfortable with and confident in using their applications will help maximise the value derived from the IT investment.

Better adoption and utilisation of enterprise applications can help bring about a range of business benefits, including enhanced business process efficiency, greater productivity and better decision making.

Evolving expectations
Parallel to the growing need for improved business application usability, user expectations have irrevocably changed – having a direct impact on enterprise application development. This evolution in usability can in part be attributed to the development of the Web, where any solution has to be so intuitive that it can be used without prior training or knowledge, and in part to the phenomenal uptake of social and online media.

Users are now accustomed to the highly simplified, but very powerful, applications they encounter on the Web and wonder why their enterprise tools do not look and feel the same way.

Any software interface they use must be familiar and comfortable to use; they expect it to be intuitive and if it falls short of their expectations they will quickly lose patience. So there is a fundamental need for better designed business applications that incorporate elements that most people are familiar with when using the Web, such as search, easy navigation and customisation of the interface.

Adapting to the social media age
Enterprise applications across the board have to evolve and continue to get easier to use. The Web has set the standard for usability and enterprise applications should reflect and embrace this to improve adoption and speed up ROI in the applications.

Just as people use modern communication and networking tools like Windows Live Messenger, Skype and Facebook to stay in contact with families and friends across the globe, they can benefit from using the same tools at work. The difference though is that, in the virtual teams context for instance, these capabilities must be tightly integrated with the information and processes that they deal with in their professional lives.

For example, with communication in virtual teams being almost universally digital, there is an excellent opportunity to capture not just the result, but also why and how that result was achieved.

Imagine two engineers discussing the design of a new engine. A couple of years later, when it is time to improve on that engine design, the people now working on it can go back and see not just the design made, but also the discussions back and forth that explain why and how it was made that way.

However, for this to be possible the digital communication needs to be preserved and associated with the business objects (such as the engine design) and processes it relates to.

This represents a strong case for why enterprise applications, where the business objects and processes already exist, should have a strong integration with social media and digital communications solutions.

Natural application selection
We are seeing an increasing blurring of the lines between consumer and business technology. The most progressive enterprise applications have already begun to emulate the Web and embrace consumer-led application design.

After all, one of the key reasons for installing enterprise software is to simplify the running of business processes so that processes such as management decisions can be improved.

Those that adapt their products the quickest are sure to become the users’ natural selection in this evolutionary process and provide customers with the most value from their investment.

Paul Massey, MD at IFS Europe West.

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