In the enterprise landscape, digital literacy is not just about tool competence, but about how well users apply their knowledge to make decisions, cultivate relationships, build a reputation, and mobilize colleagues, teams, communities, and networks. For decades, organizations have deployed productivity, communication, search, and collaboration platforms to improve staff and business efficiency.
The problem now is the proliferation of these enterprise apps. These tools hold all the data that grows a business, but the more apps used, the harder it is to read that data, let alone make it actionable.
Historically, enterprise resource planning (ERP) software has been the largest segment of enterprise application software and is projected to exceed $438 billion by 2020, according to Statista. However, more applications is not an indication of efficiency and positive user experience. Enterprise software has become so fragmented that users struggle to use it.
Consumerization of Business Software
It wasn't until around 2010 that enterprise software vendors even bothered paying attention to the end user. They threw in unnecessary features that only added to their complexity and inefficiency. WSJ's recent survey revealed that enterprise software users complained about complex installations as well as clunky interfaces and functionality.
IDG Enterprise research found that consumerization of software within a company has positive impacts on the organization, including business agility (70 percent), user productivity (76 percent) and user satisfaction (82 percent).
"Employees have shown a profound ability to use consumer tools to discover and assess information, collaborate, network and carry out tasks in their personal lives," says Ken McElrath, thought leader in enterprise digital transformation and founder of Skuid. "These skills are not necessarily employed at work. One of the critical factors in developing digital mastery is to make the IT infrastructure more consumer-like, thereby enabling employees to use skills they have developed outside of work."
Companies like Facebook, Google, Amazon and Microsoft have invested in a 'no training' approach to user experience. By testing usability patterns, they are able to recognize how end users interact with applications and what really pushes engagement to create friction-less apps similar to their consumer-facing offerings.
We're also seeing rise in enterprise software firms acquiring customer-centric vendors. Typical of other technology sectors, entrepreneurs from the consumer space are able to fill the void left by legacy and over-structured software vendors. Acquiring customer software brands also creates an infrastructure that is robust with consumer insights and the ability to mimic consumer behavior, increasing usability and productivity.
Often, businesses with specific data needs create their own systems using databases or spreadsheets. While this might offer a solution in the near term, it eventually isolates information from other processes. Data integration is key. Fragmented systems lead to duplicate information and repetitive entries as employees working with different data sets attempt to collaborate. When an employee updates his or her database, it leaves other employees in the dark. If users don't ensure that they're working off of the most up-to-date version, errors and/or overlap occur. Similarly, some businesses use different software solutions for different areas of operation, leading to disjointed processes and lost productivity.
Most enterprise software is generic by necessity. Often these generic apps come with a user experience that fails to match the specific needs of different business types. This keeps businesses and individuals from thriving. All of this can result in exceedingly slow sales cycles, low user adoption rates, and painfully disorganized workflows that don't match their company's business processes. A bad user experience keeps companies and individuals from performing at their potential.
"For companies to move at the speed of customers and markets, they need truly comprehensive enterprise apps for all of their users. The solution to fragmented systems is to build one comprehensive UX layer -- a system of engagement -- that walks you through, leverages that data, and puts it into a workflow that's user friendly," says McElrath.
The Future Workforce
While technical skills will remain important, it will be the non-technological workforce competencies and talents -- aided and abetted by consumer-style technologies -- that have a more sustained impact on achieving strategic business outcomes.
A workforce that is able to exploit consumer-oriented digital literacy is more engaged in its work practices and can be more adept at teaming, community-building, and professional networking without the need for burdensome manager oversight. Engaged employees learn, share, collaborate, and innovate and are more likely to leverage enterprise software offerings.