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User-centric vs. Enterprise Products or a Small Utopia

March 31th, 2012

This is a re-post from an earlier blog. It was published on October 20th

  1. I think it is worth posting it again.

This post has been sitting nearly as-is in drafts mode since May 2008. Today is a good day to publish it. It is about how I think software is changing to the better across the board.

The other day I got into an argument with Damien about how the perception of products changes.

My basic thesis is that with a user-centred product, say, the iPhone, the Enterprise will eventually have to adapt it, because the people that make up the Enterprise will all use the product, despite its lack of enterprise-friendliness (which is no longer as true for the iPhone as it’s been last year).

A user-centred product is something that is designed starting from the user, not the business goals of the company that makes the product or the underlying database technology.

The Enterprise in this case is some organisation that creates a framework for people to work on specific goals. These goals could be very different, take something like IBM as an example. The corporate frameworks need to be reasonably flexible to support all sorts of different goals.

At the same time, the Enterprise tries to maximise cost-effectiveness. Tying everyone to the same hard- and software, because it is cheaper to buy en masse, easier to maintain en masse and easier to teach en masse.

The fundamental problem of the Enterprise is, the users of a specific product have no, or only very little say in what they are going to be using on a daily basis. Committees, with no idea about how a certain bad designed product can affect the individual’s productivity and thus the productivity of the Enterprise, decide what to buy for everybody. And this decision is based on entirely incomplete experiences.

Do you know how to use all the time saving features of your Cisco VoIP deskphone?

Now Damien thinks I am a bit naïve here. The Enterprise will always decide on factors they can measure such as support and maintenance cost and I am sure they will try hard to keep it that way, but I strongly believe that this changes. And it will continue to change to a situation where the deciders realise they operate on insufficient data and let those who are directly affected have an opinion and a voice.

Why do I believe that? Because, only in the recent years, the focus of product development has changed towards creating stress-free tools, easy-to-understand machines, electronic gadgets for everyone. People start to expect things that actually just work and not get in their way. The iPhone is only one example. The Flip video camera is another. The entire business of 37signals is based on caring for the user and not catering the Enterprise.

I think that eventually, this kind of thinking arrives at the deciding committees and they will realise that the Enterprise is best helped with employees that don’t have to deal with utter crap when they are trying to do their job.

I say eventually, it will take some time, maybe decades. And there will always be the badbig corporations that do not care for the individual and there will always be bad decisions about what to buy and there will always be crap that salespeople shovel to enterprise customers.

But the acceptance for all this will decline and the expectancy for proper, easy to use products will grow.