Government // Mobile & Wireless
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5/27/2011
11:30 AM
Tony Byrne
Tony Byrne
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Enterprise 2.0 B.S. List: Term No. 1 Consumerization

Consumerization may let Enterprise 2.0 folks wallow in the Apple glow, but it can lead to some really bad decisions.

I'm tempted to invoke the "global filter" in TweetDeck that will zap tweets containing terms I don't want to see anymore. You see, I follow a lot of Enterprise 2.0 gurus but am losing patience for some of the buzzwords. I don't want to unfollow them, since some of my favorite commentators lapse into B.S.-speak (and of course I have lapsed myself). As my 12-year-old solemnizes, let's criticize the behavior, not the person.

Here's the real problem. Behind hyped-up language lies the haziness that characterizes much of Enterprise 2.0 today. By changing our language--and more importantly, changing our attention--we can get clearer about what's really important.

This is my list of four E2.0 B.S. terms:

1. Consumerization

2. Gamification

3. Disruption

4. Commoditization

In a series of four BrainYard posts, I'll try to offer a better alternative to each of these tedious concepts.

Consumerization Is Lame

Consumerization of enterprise applications is a sexy concept that's frequently predicted as a trend by my analyst brethren. It's the most alluring kind of prediction because it's also aspirational. Touting consumerization lets the mossy technology pundit step out of SAP's occluding shadow to bask in Apple's warm glow. Wouldn't it be cool, the thought goes, if Steve Job's dictum that interfaces must be "lickable" also applied to workplace applications?

Predictions of consumerization also allow analysts to lecture the marketplace without making specific recommendations, beyond such bloviations as telling developers to make "delightful" software.

The rapid rise, and then equally rapid cooling, of the immersive collaboration technology space--think Second Life for the enterprise--should serve as a caution about the consumerization of enterprise technologies. Not all consumer technologies have readily obvious workplace applications. Because something looks cool doesn't mean it brings value to your busy colleagues.

Consumerization is also frequently touted by those who think we're moving quickly toward a blurring of personal and professional mobile devices (not to mention blurring personal and work time). But it can lead to some bad decisions. The desire to "consumerize" mobile apps for their own sake is stoking today's outsized enthusiasm with device-specific enterprise mobile apps at a time when HTML5 is right there staring us all in the face. Native apps make sense for battling angry birds, but they're too brittle and proprietary for enterprises trying to adapt to changing employee needs.

Humanization Is Good

A better alternative to consumerization is humanization. As a consumer and an employee, what I really want is a humane experience. Traditional corporate software treats us like dull robots. Any objective observer would have to declare most enterprise applications as downright inhumane.

To be sure, humanization isn't an entirely novel concept. For example, behind the innumerable gems in Jaron Lanier's book, "You Are Not a Gadget," lies a main theme that "human" always trumps "social."

In an enterprise 2.0 context, humanization means addressing application usability forthrightly. But what exactly is usability?

Steve Krug, in his fine book, "Don't Make Me Think," defines application usability as "fitness to purpose." Fitness is a difficult concept because it implies that usability is situational, and therefore you'll need to experiment and perhaps struggle to discover what your colleagues find even remotely lickable. (Personally, I try to keep my tongue inside my mouth at work.)

Yet, Krug's definition is also liberating because it takes the vague yet essential concept of usability and attaches it to a proven methodology. That methodology is called user-centered design (UCD). You can find a ton of great literature on it. You can also find alternative usability methodologies that are probably just as good; the point is to follow one.

Hopefully, your software vendors are reading up on UCD as well, but don't be too sure. Our research into 27 enterprise collaboration and social software products found myriad application interfaces that look cool to information gluttons like you and me, but are vertigo-inducingly busy for most normal people.

Note that this approach to humanization does not mean virtualizing the employee's physical world. Your co-workers don't need a new application that will represent them with a 3D avatar; what they need is a human-friendly mobile interface into their workaday teamspaces. Productivity is the new sexy.

Some in the Enterprise 2.0 community have an answer to the usability challenge: Don't bother with it at all. Forget Steve Krug. Let your colleagues experiment with different tools and decide for themselves what's effective. This approach sounds sensible and aligns with notions of "emergent" software adoption. The challenge comes when you try to extend social and collaboration services enterprise-wide, across diverse job roles, locales, and work contexts. The user experiences that one set of employees elects as useful may prove incomprehensible to a different set of coworkers. Humanizing workplace experiences typically requires customizing application interfaces.

Alright, enough complaining. Here's a positive message in closing. Go forth and see if you can humanize the digital experience in your company, perhaps initially on an experimental basis, but grounded in user-centered design, actively drawing lessons and maturing your systems and knowledge over time. Then tell the world about it. I will happily re-tweet your successes.

Tony Byrne is president of the Real Story Group, an analyst firm that publishes independent vendor evaluations to help businesses invest in the right content technologies for their needs. Contact him at tbyrne@realstorygroup.com.

Attend Enterprise 2.0 Boston to see the latest social business tools and technologies. Register with code CPBJEB03 and save $100 off conference passes or for a free expo pass. It happens June 20-23. Find out more.

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dankeldsen
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dankeldsen,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/15/2012 | 5:00:09 AM
re: Enterprise 2.0 B.S. List: Term No. 1 Consumerization
9 months later, and no commentary on:
2. Gamification
3. Disruption
4. Commoditization

And no response to the 6 comments on this article. Let's add "engagement" to the buzzword list.

Folks, there is work to be done, and debating terms of art isn't likely to be productive.

Get a definition going, and rally behind it.

Nothing is perfect, and I have a similar background to Tony - Steve Krug is the man on usability/experience, Jaron Lanier was way ahead of his time ( and cybermusic is my background), and consumerization may not be a wonderful term... but in all seriousness, let's get to work.

There is more opportunity to make a difference in the way things are done right now than I know what to do with. I haven't been this busy in 5 years, and people say there is a recession going on.

There's never been a better time to be alive from my standpoint, whether it's the available technologies, or the smarts to rally your employees et al to do much smarter work.

Make things happen - don't wait for a perfect definition of whatever it is you expect Enterprise 2.0, mobile apps, or anything else to offer. Go go go!
DavidMichael
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DavidMichael,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/14/2011 | 1:36:00 AM
re: Enterprise 2.0 B.S. List: Term No. 1 Consumerization
For me the focus to the user. Allow them to use whatever tools they would like for the job. They will be more productive using something they know, like and had a choice in selecting. Providing the right infrastructure so that users can connect these devices to the enterprise in a secure, controlled and reliable way is the challenge!
dankeldsen
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dankeldsen,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/14/2011 | 1:11:21 AM
re: Enterprise 2.0 B.S. List: Term No. 1 Consumerization
Sam - there you go, that's exactly what I'm talking about.

Mobile in the consumer world is certainly changing the game for corporate applications/use. Siri is a great example.

And if you look at the speed to react for "corporate" developers vs. consumer developers, take a look at what happened with mobile and the US Census (http://www.internetevolution.c.... Corporate and enterprise-focused developers are unbelievably slow in comparison to consumer-focused organizations.

We're all still human (inside or outside of business), but consumer vs. corporate are two entirely different mindsets and I'll take the impact of consumerization any day. I'm just happy it's happening at all, as it's been a long time coming.
dankeldsen
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dankeldsen,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/14/2011 | 1:05:39 AM
re: Enterprise 2.0 B.S. List: Term No. 1 Consumerization
And that type of consumerization should be good news to corporate accountants. Less equipment to buy - and with modern infrastructure, should be no problem to handle. That last bit is the rub .;)
sammefford
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sammefford,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/8/2011 | 10:15:03 PM
re: Enterprise 2.0 B.S. List: Term No. 1 Consumerization
I agree with dmichael_1: Consumerization is real. The take-away is that user experience innovation is happening in the consumer space much more than in the enterprise space. Enterprise user experience designers can and should learn a ton about great user experiences by copying ideas from great consumer experiences.

I just shared four incredibly innovative mobile user experiences to learn from in a recent blog post: http://blogs.avalonconsult.com...

I'll also point to an incredibly inspiring (though long) paper about user interface design: http://worrydream.com/#!2/Magi...

I agree with Dan Keldsen, the terminology isn't important here. What is important is that we copy the good ideas that improve user experience without letting "ooh shiny" distractions like SecondLife waste our time on consumer thrills that don't *yet* provide value in the enterprise.
DavidMichael
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DavidMichael,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/7/2011 | 1:55:05 PM
re: Enterprise 2.0 B.S. List: Term No. 1 Consumerization
Consumerization is real. People demand to be able to use their personal smartphones/tablets with corporate email.
dankeldsen
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dankeldsen,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/7/2011 | 1:46:09 PM
re: Enterprise 2.0 B.S. List: Term No. 1 Consumerization
Tony - ah, time to stir up controversy as we head into the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in a few weeks. Nicely done.

Interesting points, and I agree that humanization is a more accurate term - whether it's a more useful term... not as clear to me.

I'm not as interested in the label debate...

I don't think that Enterprise 2.0 gurus, practitioners, or solution providers are ignoring usability or human-centered design as they work on interface design, as you suggest.

On the contrary, of all the market segments that are aimed at employees, Enterprise 2.0 solutions are, in my experience, the most focused on usability and user experience of any category of solutions.

And they have to be, because, among other things, consumerization/humanization has made it bloody obvious that if your interface sucks, people simply will not use it.

There is too much competition for easy to use, everyday "consumers" (not you and I or many of The BrainYard folks who are, as you say, geekier than most) - and what's "hot" will burn out in moments to be replaced by something else.

What remains "usable/useful" however, will remain - and *that* is the part of consumerization that is worth keeping.

E2.0 solutinos also have to be user experience focused, because they are among the most actively used systems - as collaboration is an ongoing process, not just a "final repository."

As a result, that means E2.0 providers have to think about the many devices and ways their systems will actually be used. (Note: HTML 5 isn't anywhere near a standard yet, BTW - and it's possible to use stylesheets and other templating features to create multi-platform mobile interfaces upfront.)

You don't take the "out of the box" experience of an ERP system and try to cram it onto an iPhone, or even an iPad (pick your favorite mobile platform, doesn't matter to me) - that simply won't work. Taking *any* traditional technology system, assuming bigger screens, higher bandwidth, full keyboards, and expecting them to work well in a mobile world, us just insane as well.

That means, even in the Enterprise, developers/suppliers need to realize that they are competing for attention with a much larger universe of expectations for the user experience - and can't assume that "selling seats" really means anything (if it ever did), which is the bottom line for the traditional suppliers.

That's the primary reason I began covering blogs, wikis, social networks et al back in 2003.

Traditional CMS players (and all the satellite technologies/practices around CMS) had become so big, clumsy and disconnected from the actual use of their interfaces by normal humans, that then (as now, unfortunately), people had to be beaten with a stick to get these systems used.

Stripping away complex UIs for simple interfaces to just let people get content out the door was (and still is) a huge revelation.

Now, with SaaS/cloud offerings, a bit more interoperability/standards (never enough, but nothing's perfect), and an evolving array of interfaces to deal with, modern solution providers know they need to keep proving themselves over and over again if they're going to keep their paying customers happy on a regular basis.

That's a true "consumer" mindset - vs. the 3-7 year lifecycles I see every day in traditional enterprise solutions.

Everyone realizes that the iPad has only existed for a year, correct? And yet look at how quickly that consumer-oriented device has leapt into enterprise discussions.

Consumerization vs. humanization - either way, it's refocusing on the user and their experience.

As someone who has been giving away copies of Steve Krug's book for the last 10 years (Steve - if you're reading, thank you for the great material, and feel free to send a gift my way - it's easily been 200 books ;), I'm all for improved user experience.

God knows, we need more people focused on better user experience (I'm willing to settle for *any* concern about the experience at this point), both enterprise solution providers, and internal IT.

But come on - Users, humans, consumers, experience, usability, interaction - it's all related. Pick a term, make it happen, and lather, rinse, repeat. It's never done and the labels will change to some new subtlety that only the cutting edge will appreciate. What good does that do for the masses (ahem, consumers) today?

And the bottom line, many organizations are not yet sophisticated enough to recognize subtle differences in these terms - which is why I recommend leaving whatever term is sticking, to be taken and run with, rather than focus on debating labels.

To my fellow enterprise citizens - get things done - call it what you will.

Actions, not debate, are what will get your business seeing the benefits of any of this.

The rest is just posturing. We did that in the 90s... you don't need it now. Go go go!
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