How to Make Business Apps More Appealing

By Patrick K. Burke

Enterprise software users are a discernible bunch, and more than a few organizations have found out the hard way that some apps, despite best intentions and substantial investment, just don’t hit the mark for users. The more difficult software is to use, the less it will be used.  And while there really is no such thing as a simple solution to a complex problem, CIOs and IT leaders should consider what can be simplified and what needs to change within the systems they manage and rely upon for business to succeed. Nate Clark and Donald Dawson, of Strategy&, are experts in IT strategy and enterprise architecture, among other fields of IT. Here, they offer some insight and advice on implementing new systems with existing traditional infrastructure, why neglecting a mobile strategy is simply not an option and why IT and business have a responsibility to work together to find and use software that helps get the job done.   

CIO Insight: A recent survey revealed that employees aren’t using the majority of software provided to them. How can IT leaders address this and make work-related applications more appealing?

In our experience, issues around adoption of software are usually driven by a few factors:

*Usability: This is more than how “easy” the software is to use, but includes factors such as performance, number of steps to accomplish common tasks, ability to access the software when needed (e.g., access software when mobile), stability, and even aesthetics of presentation–quite simply, the harder things are to use, the less they will be used.

*Utility: We have encountered a large number of circumstances where corporate IT departments expect members of the workforce to frequently enter large amounts of data into systems (e.g., for sales tracking, manufacturing planning, etc.), only to be frustrated by employees avoiding the software. When the software offers little value to the ability of employees to get their own jobs done or how they are evaluated, it is much less likely to get done.

*Overbuying: Many corporate IT departments complain that they “use only 10% of their ERP’s capabilities.” This is usually true, but instead of being a signal that there is an issue with the user population, it may be that the company over-purchased and has an opportunity to simplify–there should be a compelling business case to utilize the software.

*Functionality: Business users are discerning consumers of software–if the software doesn’t do what it needs to, or does it poorly, they will know and “vote with their feet” by not using it.  Corporate IT groups need to make sure that deployed software truly meets the business need, and does it with high quality.

Note that we don’t include “training” or “awareness” on this list–training on software seems to have little correlation with usage. The expectation of most current members of the workforce is that enterprise software be just as intuitive as the consumer technology they utilize daily.

CIO Insight: What’s the lifespan of a company that neglects to make their internal and external apps mobile-friendly?

Short. The specific timeframe will vary with industry–but with the rise of near-ubiquitous high-bandwidth networks, the need to be ever closer to customers, and a need for ever greater employee and customer flexibility, the case for mobile enablement is high. As a straightforward example–I would guess the majority of your readers are reviewing this article from a mobile device.

CIO Insight: What approach should companies take when implementing new systems with traditional infrastructure?

The best practices for deployment of on-premise solutions are the same as always–and should include a focus on value. Strategy& uses a framework called “Program Value Realization” that focuses on this, and which has five key drivers: Program Management, Operating Model Management, Scope Management, Sourcing Management and Value Management.

CIO Insight: There’s so much focus on business-ready, cloud-enabled apps. Should CIOs and tech buyers be wary of snake-oil salesmen promising results that are too good to be true?

Almost all business leaders, including CIOs, know that there is no such thing as a simple solution to a complex problem–and enterprise software, by definition, handles complicated problems. Cloud-based ERP systems have tremendous potential–but like every tool, there are situations where they just are not appropriate (but may be someday). As in all situations:

* Have a clear definition of what problem you’re trying to solve–do you need something that can manage HR tasks just in the US, or globally?

* Carefully evaluate the possible solutions, taking a deep and hard look at its abilities to solve your issues–the cloud solution can handle employee evaluations in the US, but can it handle local PII issues in Indonesia?

* Make an informed choice.

CIO Insight: Is there any downside to giving specific business units more influence over the technologies and apps they use to run their operations?

We advocate for balance. No one knows more what is needed to make a business successful than those who are living it. At the same time, central IT groups identify cross-business synergies that business units are likely to miss. When we encounter issues with our clients, things are usually out of balance in one direction or the other.

CIO Insight: Is there any concern over decentralizing the IT department as more units get more hands-on with technology once exclusively in the domain of IT?

First, we see the “old” paradigm of “IT” or the “business” as one that has lost relevance in the current day. The current generation of business leaders are very IT knowledgeable–and the idea that IT will solely control technology solutions is now almost unworkable. The model we encourage our clients to target is one of partnership–where both sides bring their expertise. An example of this for SaaS is where the business is the primary driver behind documenting requirements for what the system needs to do and developing the business case (noting that requirements used to be something that IT might have “owned” in the past), and IT drives expertise on architecture, cross-departmental concerns, vendor management, security, etc. Frankly, where concerns arise is when either IT or the business is off on its own. 

Patrick K. Burke is senior editor of CIO Insight.

CIO Insight Staff
CIO Insight Staff
CIO Insight offers thought leadership and best practices in the IT security and management industry while providing expert recommendations on software solutions for IT leaders. It is the trusted resource for security professionals who need network monitoring technology and solutions to maintain regulatory compliance for their teams and organizations.

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