Not too long ago, business leaders had to go to IT to get new software approved and installed. Now, enterprise grade business applications are a Google search and credit-card swipe away. And the quality and variety are outstanding! Want to get your team collaborating and reduce the volume of email? A quick web search will yield over 20 office communication/collaboration platforms. Every one of them accessible in the cloud via every device you own. While this bounty is a good thing, there are some drawbacks. And IT has experienced the pain of those issues for years.
IT departments select the business applications they allow into the organization based on how easy they are to manage, move, and secure. And while IT has a bad reputation for putting their needs over the needs of the business, IT also has valid concerns. Business leaders need to understand these concerns to avoid getting stuck in a bad situation.
Standard User-experience (UX) Design
Business software used to look like Microsoft’s products. Everyone in the office was familiar with the look, feel, and interactions in Microsoft’s software. This made it easy for anyone to use any software that looked like Microsoft Office and made employee training much easier. Fast forward a few years and UX designs have fragmented. Some software looks like consumer-focused products like Facebook. Some business software looks like Microsoft Office. And some software has a unique design you won’t find anywhere else. The more of these applications your business uses, the greater the learning curve for employees. The lack of UX design standards can increase training cost and cause loss of productivity.
IT vets every application to ensure the underlying architecture is similar. IT wants the same code base so customization is easier. They want the same database so moving and aggregating data is possible. And they look for the same data structure and naming conventions so reporting is easier. For IT, all the applications the business uses need to play well with the other applications. They call this interoperability. With the proliferation of cloud-based applications, interoperability is much harder to do. Simple things, like what an application calls a customer, can create massive issues when trying to get a single view of your data. For example, what if you want to understand the value of a customer across the customer lifecycle? You have customer data in your marketing automation platform. Also in your customer relationship management (CRM) system. And in your enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. Even in your accounting system? The more applications you use to manage interactions with your customers, the more data you have put together. Once you get the data in one place, you still have to make it look the same. For example, one application calls the customer “name,” the other application calls the customer “first name” and “last name.” These differences make getting a good understanding of your customer a monumental task.
IT is adamant that it be easy to switch between competing products. They want it to be fast and easy to get data out of one application and into a competing application. Now that business leaders are making more decisions about the applications they buy; business leaders are beginning to feel the pain of vendor lock-in. Say a CMO decides to buy a marketing automation tool. Six months later, the marketing team finds the software is missing necessary functionality. They want to start using a competing product. But there is no way to get the data out of their existing tool and into the new software. The marketing team must decide if losing six months of customer data is worth making the switch. They either lose data, or they keep using a tool that doesn’t work. Most of the time they keep paying for the old software to keep access to their data and they buy the new software to access the functionality they need. Cost and productivity both take a hit.
There is no question that IT needs to be more flexible when it comes to giving the business the tools they need. But business leaders need to learn from IT’s experiences. IT and business leaders can work together to find software meets business needs and works for the long run. The resulting decisions will drive productivity in a flexible -and manageable- way.