The surging popularity of connected mobile devices has deeply impacted how people interact with technology in their daily lives. One of the major shifts caused by these devices – along with the applications that make them so alluring – has been a dramatic uptick in the consumerization of enterprise software solutions. With so many Americans now conditioned to learn, play, share and connect on easy-to-use, fast, and fun devices like smartphones and tablets, they’ve become every bit as impatient with less-intuitive software in their workplace.
In this post, we’ll take an in-depth look at how this shift towards consumerization impacts everyone involved in enterprise software design. We’ll also hone in on the crucial component of free trials offered in enterprise software – where a delicate balance must be struck in order to not only engage the user, but also ultimately convert them into a subscriber or buyer. We’ll take a closer look at some of the main challenges posed throughout this process – both to the end users and the product design team – and we’ll share our findings and opinions on how to best meet these challenges.
THE CONSUMERIZATION OF ENTERPRISE SOFTWARE
In the context of the enterprise software ecosystem, consumerization is becoming more of a meaningful and impactful occurrence. After all, it makes sense that a successful business would enable and empower its employees to achieve peak levels of productivity and efficiency in the workplace. Saddling them with software that feels frustratingly complex and slow is no way to go about that business.
There are a lot of reasons why some enterprise companies insist that their employees use software that may be out of touch with the concept of consumerization, the primary ones being security and rigid workflows. However, this may lead to counterproductive results because the user’s frustrations create inefficiencies; meanwhile, their counterparts at more modernized companies come to work motivated, confident and perhaps even excited to use the smart software/applications their employer has installed. There’s no long lag times, confusing interfaces or inability to sync their own applications with the company’s software. Things flow smoothly, and employees are happy and productive.
A BOLD NEW WORKPLACE
Successful enterprise software must have an engaging and intuitive user interface which creates a compelling and enjoyable user experience.
The goal should always be to ensure seamless collaboration, effortless information sharing and a smooth experience across every department and device.
What once were regarded as tedious productivity tools must now mimic other at-home applications employees have come to know and love. To accomplish this task, the software needs to deliver both an intuitive UI and an engaging UX. And this delivery has to begin at the trial phase – your first meaningful interaction with your end user. As a 2007 CNET article wisely predicted:
“Maybe we’ll wake up five years from now and be surprised to discover that where we spend our “free time” today – Facebook, LinkedIn, Digg, etc. – will become work time tomorrow. That blogging, IM, texting, etc. that many use to chat with friends today will become the business communication of tomorrow. Enterprise software at this point becomes much more interesting, because it will have learned that utilitarian doesn’t have to equate to stodgy, complex, and boring. Enterprises will operate tomorrow more like consumers do today.”
B2B VS. B2C: DIFFERENT SOFTWARE, DIFFERENT NEEDS
While it’s important to achieve a good measure of the “consumerization of the enterprise” we’re discussing, you shouldn’t overlook real distinctions between business-to-consumer (aka B2C) and business-to-business (aka B2B) software. It’s never as simple as taking the best aspects of B2C software, and casually migrating them over to B2B software solutions.
Ideally, consumerization of enterprise software involves taking the technology, best practices, thinking and behavior that’s been established and proven out in the consumer space, and applying it in a way that makes sense in the enterprise space. Successful software companies are the ones who key in on developing enterprise-level software, interfaces and features that work to remove friction points and customer barriers – both internally and externally.
WHEN B2C INFLUENCES B2B SOFTWARE: CONSUMERIZATION IN ACTION
One example of B2C software winning over a B2B focused application involves Microsoft’s “enterprise social network” Yammer vs. “team collaboration tool” Slack. In this case, the consumer-oriented software application (Slack) is rapidly replacing the enterprise-engineered solution (Yammer), due mostly to superior ease-of-use and the perceived fun factor. As has been detailed on several websites, more people seem to be fond of Slack compared to the big business-backed Yammer. There are several reasons for this phenomenon, but the simple explanation is that Slack is more user-friendly.
There’s also the case of the popular Evernote. Many businesses have gravitated towards Evernote for the same reasons that people prefer Slack. In a truly “grassroots” fashion, several workplaces now share and work together on collaborative Evernote documents, which have become a core part of their process. In most cases, this happened after employees started using Evernote in their personal lives, and then introduced it within the corporate culture – not the other way around. Smart companies accepted this embrace of B2C software even though it supplanted B2B software that was already in place.
These days, enterprise startups are attempting to focus on building applications that directly address user goals, as opposed to feature-centered development based on archaic enterprise workflows. The core difference in the two business models itself affects the creation of these software tremendously. For B2C software, a lot of companies can afford to follow the “freemium” model where the users don’t have to pay until they want to upgrade certain features. This facilitates the expansion of their user base which is also aided by the software’s ease of use. But for B2B companies, the focus on whether companies will be willing to pay large sums of money for using it, makes product manager’s prioritize easy-to-market functionality rather than the user’s needs. The place where B2B software models converge with B2C software is in the growing trend of the availability of “Free Trials”.
This is the next step in the evolution of the “consumerization of IT”, where a trial is the point that bridges the gap between the potential and the actual. It connects the marketing material that prospective customers read to the real, tangible (and hopefully enjoyable) in-app experience.
Today’s climate shows us that there’s still room for improvement in the product design process as the consumerization of enterprise software continues to evolve. In Part 2 of the article, we’ll be discussing free trials for the enterprise.