Enterprise designs

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Enterpise software is on a lot of minds this week. Khoi Vinh takes enterprise apps to task for their often poor user experiences and then outlines several reasons for the shortfalls. The underlying theme, both in the article and the comments to it? The people that buy the apps don’t ever really use them. There’s no accountability.

[E]nterprise software rarely gets critiqued the way even a US$30 piece of shareware will. It doesn’t benefit from the rigor of a wide and varied base of users, many of whom will freely offer merciless feedback, goading and demanding it to be better with each new release. Shielded away from the bright scrutiny of the consumer marketplace and beholden only to a relatively small coterie of information technology managers who are concerned primarily with stability, security and the continual justification of their jobs and staffs, enterprise software answers to few actual users.

Your customer isn’t always the person paying for your product or service. And in many businesses where the payer isn’t the actual customer, things start to break. How can someone make good decisions about what to buy if they never actually use the products they’re paying for? Imagine a stranger asking you to shop for Christmas gifts for her mother and you’ve got a good idea of how enterprise software is often sold.

Six Apart’s Anil Dash points out that their enterprise software has had the benefit of being used by consumers first. He says, "[H]aving a robust, thriving community of millions of individuals blogging with our platforms in their personal lives makes our business and Enterprise software simply work better."

One way for enterprise software to suck less is to make sure that actual users have a very active voice that’s heard by the company. And a way to do that is to market it to consumers.

Defrag’s Eric Norlin has noticed this as an emerging trend. "I see a lot of the companies in the 'defrag space' starting on the consumer-side of things. I also see nearly all of them making the shift toward the enterprise."

Brad Feld confirms the trend, saying, "Large corporate IT has digested a lot of the innovation from the last cycle and is preparing for adopting and incorporating much of the consumer side innovations we’ve seen explode on the scene in the past two years. "

Over at IMified, we’ve been making this transition. We started out as a consumer app, both with IMified and Feed Crier. Every day we talked to our customers. We know who they are and what they want. We understand what makes them happy and what makes them nervous. So when we started building an enterprise platform for hosting bots, we applied that knowledge.

Selling to consumers isn’t the only way to create enterprise software that doesn’t suck. If you’re creating warehouse management software or a contract management app, for instance, you’re not going to be able to find a consumer market. In those cases, you’ll need to find another way to get down in the weeds with the customers who use your apps each day.

As Naryan says on a comment to Khoi’s article, "historically enterprise software has been deployed not to make employee’s lives easier but to help enterprises run more smoothly. In other words, companies are often only concerned that their business needs are met."

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