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:
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 [email protected].
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