Nobody should be building Enterprise solutions these days…

OK, so something of a attention-grabbing headline, but let me explain…

I recently saw an interesting post by Geoffrey Moore, he of Crossing the Chasm fame. In it he argued that the consumer IT boom has peaked, and that the next five to seven years will see the most interesting developments happening in the Enterprise space. It’s an interesting analysis, maybe prompted by the changes in stock prices of some of the big consumer tech players, but certainly has some legs.

Putting aside how Windows 8 might develop out a new series of hybrid devices, it seems that we may be entering a period of relative calm in consumer devices with incremental rather than revolutionary change now the order of the day. Turn them off, remove any branding, and one smartphone pretty much looks like any other today – the form factors are settling (for a time).

The hype around consumerisation and BYOD seems to also be settling (into the well of over-hyped despair, or whatever the next stage on Gartner’s cycle is) with an increasing acceptance that it’s a reality rather than something than can be confronted and put back into its (beautifully designed) box.

Which, if I read Moore’s article right, he believes means that more brainpower and focus will be heading back into the Enterprise space, having seen relatively little transformation in the past few years. Enterprise IT, in it’s own right, had entered into a period of calm as most businesses had automated most processes that were likely deliver business benefit. Software as a Service has seen a change in the distribution and ownership model of software, but CRM, ERP and then like have remained fairly unchanged for some time now since applications moved to the browser in the late 1990s.

In the context of all that has happened in the past decade, it strikes me, though that the opportunities these days aren’t going to land in providing new solutions to previously unidentified problems. For me the game changers will come from adopting some of the success of the consumer world into the world of business by putting key focus onto the end user as a conscious, living, breathing human being rather than just a information and processing node in a larger system. Applications will need to serve the needs of the users, rather than just merely the needs of the Enterprise from them to be deeply impactful.

A couple of examples and very different ends of the scale.

In big organisations, my continued quest for a better timesheet system – one that inherently motivates people to use it, rather than relying upon virtual sticks for compliance. In a world where we are used to technology that is compelling, rewarding and pleasurable, removing draconian systems will become a differentiator for organisations that really want to hold on to their people.

At the other extreme, there are a mass of small companies that are still largely untouched by the digital revolution. We continue to see a massive reliance in our economy on businesses of ten or fewer employees, and for us in the tech sector it’s easy to think that all of these micro businesses are thrusting digital start-ups. Many of them may be, but there are a lot of businesses that don’t focus on technology and find its use to support their business uneconomic, scary or both. We recently bought carpets from a local family business – everything they did was paper-based. It was a similar experience in the local fabric shop (looking at ordering curtains).

ERP in its traditional guise isn’t going to work for those potential customers – but a very consumer-friendly, SaaS offering, potentially tailored to their specific markets, might well do. The key to unlocking those markets, though, will be making business software that is as easily consumable as a social network.

Hence the headline: the meanings of Enterprise-grade and Consumer-grade in IT terms have pretty much reversed in the last few years. An “Enterprise” mindset tends to put the needs of “the business” and it’s systems and processes above the needs of the people involved in actually using it. Cracking new markets, or for that matter existing ones, will be from putting people, rather than Enterprises, first – and that will be the thing that will actually deliver the outputs that those businesses need.

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