When Enterprise Software Is Too Hard, You Must Consumerize It

User expectations about software have changed, and you may need to adjust your enterprise systems to make them easier to use.

At the info360 keynote panel on consumerization of IT this week in New York City, a couple of IT pros talked about the challenges of working with traditional enterprise software in an age when users are expecting tools that work like the ones they use at home.

The panel, which was hosted by Tony Byrne from Real Story Group and featured Carin Forman, Director of digital photo services at HBO and David Kellogg, who is CIO and publisher of the journal Foreign of Affairs at the Council of Foreign Relations think tank in New York City.

Forman said, although she’s not in IT anymore, she worked on that side of the business for 17 years prior to joining HBO 3 years ago. She said people want tools to be easy to use. They don’t need a tutorial to use Google or Facebook and they don’t want tools that require a one hour training session to learn to use.

She said the problem is her department’s key application, a digital asset management (DAM) system for managing the company’s vast digital still photography collection is surprisingly difficult to use. She said the problem was exacerbated because offices are spread out across the world in Singapore, Washington and London and she doesn’t have the luxury of explaining how to use the search tool to people across time zones.

Instead of developing an online training session (which users didn’t want), she decided to build a portal front end in Java and provide a friendlier interface to the back-end DAM.

Since the DAM vendor wasn’t making the process easier, it was up to her IT department to do it for her.

And if you’re an IT pro, you may be forced to make similar investments. If the vendor won’t make the process friendlier and easier for your users, you may have to tweak it yourself to provide a smoother experience for your users.

Some of you may be wondering why you need to pander to users at all, but the fact is, today users are rebelling against tools that are too hard to use.

Kellogg from the Council on Foreign Relations is realistic about today’s IT environment, saying that ¬†we have to face that roles are changing. “In short, employees have become customers,” he said. In the old days employees simply did what they were told and had no choice about tools, while customers were what you needed to respond to because they paid you, he explained.

Today, he added, “Employees have choices. We want our staff to do everything everywhere all the time and they want to be able to do that.” And he said, we can’t do that by forcing employees to use draconian systems.

And let’s face it, nobody wants to fight their tools to get their job done. It’s just stressful.

That’s why more companies are acknowledging the gap between enterprise software and that consumer experience, and taking steps like Forman did at HBO to make the existing systems friendlier to use.

You might not like the shift that’s been happening over the past couple of years, but if you acknowledge that you have to find a way to make your systems easier to use without ripping and replacing what you already have, you can tweak these systems to make them a bit easier for your users to do their jobs. And everyone wins.

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