The last 2 years in web startups and general usability improvements online have been fascinating. A product of this innovation period is a consumer/userbase of individuals who come to expect the same experience out of every web-based application they use online and at their day jobs. I love the passion!
There is no disputing that most enterprise apps are terrible. Let’s examine why:
- Enterprise applications span careers. Very rarely do you get an opportunity to start at ground zero in the enterprise with an application. Web startups have the luxury of starting with a blank sheet of paper. In the enterprise, you’re either integrating with legacy systems or building on existing processes that are engrained in the business. Furthermore, long-tenured “champions” are hard to come by as it relates to enterprise applications which brings me to my next point:
- Enterprise applications are inherited. In my case, I’ve inherited a handful of applications from predecessors who inherited applications from their predecessors. Often times in the enterprise, applications that have been in production have years of usage behind them and are tightly woven into day-to-day business processes. Well, there must be documentation on how the software operates, right? Not quite.
- Enterprise applications are wide in focus. Most web-based startups are narrow in their focus. In the enterprise, one solution rarely fits all needs and business processes, so you’re forced to do patchwork between disparate technologies. The startups that try to be “all things to all people” ultimately fail. Look at these lists of startups out of TechStars and you’ll find that they’re all laser-beam focused. Enterprise application providers are selling “one size fits all” solutions to corporate clients, so don’t plan on there being a community of “theme developers” for your enterprise app like there are for WordPress blogs.
- In the early days, the enterprise valued function over form. Looking back as little as 5 years ago, companies were still just discovering web technologies. When going from a manual, paper-based process to your first automated, electronic solution, everyone’s going to love it. Fast forward a few years and here we are, usability stewards with high expectations of web application usability. We’ve been spoiled with free services from the Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, and other online entities.
There’s a paradigm shift taking place with the expectations of applications
The evolving nature of web applications is no different than any other maturing industry. Automotive manufacturers experienced the same challenges. Early automobiles valued function: getting you from point A to point B. As that became the standard, automobiles had to differentiate on other features. Early enterprise applications valued function, however in the world of applications, advancements are not measured in decades like automobiles, they are measured in years or even months.
The enterprise will catch up.
Just like most consumers don’t rush out and buy the latest car or truck to take advantage of the latest and greatest innovations from the manufacturer, enterprises aren’t going to invest in software upgrades that don’t promise increased top-line sales or improved bottom line results.
That 1999 model year vehicle still serves its purpose — insurance is cheap, you have no car payments, and it still runs despite the occasional service it requires. The bells and whistles in new automobiles sure are attractive but they just aren’t enough to sway you to make the plunge for a new automobile. The same thinking is taking place in the enterprise with regards to the applications the organization invested in years ago.