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Enterprise Apps: Are We At An Inflection Point?

by Hari Nallan, CEO & Co-founder, Think Design September-2016

There has been significant change in the way enterprises work in the past decade, while digital technologies that power these enterprises are yet to keep pace with it. Are we now at a point of inflection?

Today’s Enterprises have:
1. Teams that are geographically spread, with members working from various locations, time zones and environments.
2. People working from home as a norm. A decade ago, this was an exception.
3. Teams that are comprised of people from varied cultural backgrounds; and are physically disconnected. It is not surprising that many team members hardly meet each other and do not know them.

While digital technologies have made progress in tackling the challenges of Communication, Collaboration and Project Management, there is still a lot to be desired when it comes to deeply “Connect people”, the way Social networks did. A real emotional connect is missing and it is time enterprises seriously solved this problem through digital technologies; because, the lack of such emotional connect results in people not really identifying with their employers.

On the other hand, we can experience a completely different trend in the Social networking space. Apps such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter etc., have transcended many such barriers (of geography, culture, language, contexts etc.,) and have their users hooked on to them. While the whole world is discussing about de-addicting users from these Social networks, our Enterprises are trying hard to motivate their users to use their applications.

What are the reasons for this Dichotomy?
While working on UX for an employee engagement platform, we experienced these concerns first hand. We analyzed platforms such as SharePoint, Yammer, Google Apps, Mobile apps like Slack; and a multitude of HRMS and Project Management solutions, we found that many of these solutions miserably fail in getting the user motivated and excited to readily use them. 

1.Enterprise solutions are still fragmented and solve small specific issues. This results in users being forced to use multiple applications and solutions, resulting in fatigue. While enterprises spend a lot of money integrating these solutions to their needs, employees are reluctant to use that “one more app” that adds to their burden.
2. A lot of enterprise solutions are still predominantly browser based, forcing users to use them through their desktops/laptops. Even those that are present in mobile platforms tend to have their User Experiences far from desirable. This is one pain-point Social networks on the other hand, started solving many years ago.
3. Enterprise solutions tend to lean towards “transactional” than “aspirational”; there is this implicit approach with which solutions are architected. However, this approach will not result in aspirational products. When we conducted user interviews while studying enterprise apps, we had them complaining, “End of the day, all we see are tables”. If we bombard users with tables, lines of data and call to actions; and that’s all they see, it is going to be really hard to take them that extra mile and hear them say, “Wow. I like using this”!

Whether we like it or not, if we do not build ‘aspirational’ value in Enterprise apps, even the ‘transactional’ bit will start falling apart. We all know that “We can take a horse to a pond, but cannot make it drink water”. It is time we learnt from consumer applications and built enterprise applications accordingly.

It will not be difficult to emulate what apps like Facebook, Whatsapp, Snapchat have already accomplished; and contextualize them with the challenges of the enterprise. Slack has accomplished this in a certain way; and I hope that the recent acquisition of LinkedIn is a move in this direction. I believe that we are certainly at an inflection point.