Enterprise Software Needs Passion
In the whole debate about consumerization of IT and how consumer technologies, usage patterns and behaviors are changing the world of corporate IT there is one part I'm missing. Yes we're talking about Generation Y and how they are all computer savvy and are demanding new technologies. And while that will be a factor I would agree with what Marc Scott writes that most of the new users coming into corporations over the next years will not be overwhelmingly computer savvy.
That being said I don't think that an increase in technological prowess will drive a change in corporations. Just think of the car industry. You could try to make the argument that cars have gotten better because for about a generation or slightly longer young adults have grown up using cars and thus are now much more knowledgeable about them. Obviously the opposite is true. The average person today knows much less about their car than 20 years ago. Still, our cars are much more advanced and as consumers we still expect more to come.
I believe the same is true in the IT industry. As hardware and software manufacturers are expanding their sales into consumer territory, they have to appeal to people who are not interested in the same set of features an IT professional is looking for. They don't care about security features (too much, at least not yet), ease of administration of large pools of machines, group policies etc. They look for ease of use. And that's true for hard- and software. I firmly believe we're past the point where you could sell a new product or version of a product based on features. Most consumers are not looking for the most features but for the features they most often use and how easily these are accessible in a given software. And yes, design also plays a part. And I don't just mean that part of the design work that 'makes things look sexy'. There is much more to it. Good design influences the features available, how much space you are given on a screen to accomplish a task, how to get there etc. It's not just visuals but usability. Unfortunately corporate software has long been designed by engineers. Don't get me wrong - I like engineers. But they tend think in terms of features. For them, more features often equal better software and burying them three levels deep in drop-down menus is considered to be quite reasonable.
As long as the users had nothing better to compare it with that was true. But today they have. And that's where the drive to change will come from. They know that software can be designed to help them accomplish what they need to do. They are no longer willing to contend with poorly designed enterprise software bloated with features but unable to truly help its users to do their job. For those of us working in enterprise IT this means that we need to change our perception of the world. Stop looking for features only. Do design research. Understand the users and their jobs. If you are looking to buy an off the shelf package make sure it supports your users in doing their job. Not the other way around.
If you are developing tools it is incumbent upon you to instill a sense of passion with every system or tool you deliver. It is not the job of your audience to be happy with what ends up on their screen. It's ours. And if we don't do it then no one else will. If we crank out tools that are fit for a purpose but fail to excite users then we will either fail financially (if your livelihood depends on selling it) or morally and I believe neither should be an option.