Enterprise Apps should be Fun!

Salesforce.com Developer Evangelist, Pat Patterson, recently published a blog article about visualizing salesforce.com data through Minecrafta game of discovery enjoyed by kids ranging nine years of age to 19. 

The demonstration of his resulting app, Forecraft, highlights the power of visualizing data.  And more than that, it demonstrates the power of making your business applications entertaining and fun.

I was taken in by the app. The discovery elements of Minecraft created a desire to examine more of the salesforce.com data.  Imagine if it was my job to analyze sales data formatted in this manner! This would be one of the coolest jobs (second only to what doing now).

Gamification is a common example of applying game constructs to draw sales users into the app.  This is just as compelling for employees who are driven by challenge and the desire to win (sales people), as Pat’s demo may be for those employees desiring discovery.  

The critical distinction is that the two roles are driven by different motivations.  People in sales are naturally competitive and want the challenge while others are driven by the need for discovery (solving problems) or sensation (for all you people in marketing).

Traditional gamification and Pat’s demonstration of Forecraft illustrates the need to pay attention to the aesthetics of an application.  Game creators have been focusing on aesthetics in making games desirable to their target audience, and enterprise application developers need to learn from them.  

Not all of your employees are driven by the same kind of “fun” described above. As cool as Pat’s demo is, a sales person would completely disregard it while someone in sales operations may be drawn in. 

Enterprise app creators need to focus on the aesthetics of applications, first by knowing who their users are and what motivates them.  The current incarnation of gamification is just an example of what’s possible, and is focused on a narrow subset of application users.  Your goal should be to make your applications fun for each of your employees. Strive to understand your users and what motivates them, and productivity and innovation will abound.  Felicitas ex nebula

Live Free in the Cloud

In 1995, I installed Linux on my company provided laptop.  I didn’t do it because I was told to or supposed to.  I could have (and probably should have) gotten into some trouble for this.  

I installed Linux because I could.  It was a free operating system and I found open source… liberating.  Yes, that’s right, liberating.

Nearly a dozen years later, I was drawn to the Cloud for the same reasons.  Only with the Cloud, the software is more immediate, powerful and more mature than open source software for my purposes.  More importantly, it was significantly more liberating.

You can see this same effect with others as they turn to the Cloud to address their business challenges.  They do it because it’s liberating.  Liberating them from:

  • Unnecessary complexities of legacy technologies,
  • Ridiculous risks and costs of such technologies, and
  • Large project teams that include IT, consultants, vendors and integrators that slow down the pace of innovation

It gives people the freedom to solve business problems, to experiment and be entrepreneurial without the chains of legacy technology. 

There is nothing preventing you from using the Cloud to take your destiny and your organization’s future into your own hands.  Choose to live free…  Libertas Ex Nebula

Adoption Rate: The Cloud’s Vanity Metric

Adoption rate is a metric that Cloud-based CRM providers obsess about.  It’s one of the best and most reliable indicators of whether or not a company will renew their subscription to a Cloud vendor’s service.

However, for organizations that use CRM, adoption rate is a vanity metric. Although it may suggest the tool is being used by employees (or not being used), it doesn’t even begin to tell the story of the purpose of the application for the people using it. Eric Reis, author of The Lean Startup, says this about vanity metrics:They might make you feel good, but they don’t offer clear guidance for what to do.”

When tracking adoption rate (e.g. the number of user logins for your CRM over a 14-day period), can you answer the following questions:

  • Are users more productive and have more time in front of customers as a result of the application?
  • Are users effectively managing their opportunities?
  • Do managers have the ability to accurately forecast sales by period using information entered by users?

Adoption rates are not an indicator of this truly useful information. It does not tell about the efficacy of an application for its users or the organization that the application serves.

Avoid falling into the adoption vanity metric trap by focusing on what people do. Put those processes in your application. For example, if your sales team is constructing detailed deal information in spreadsheets that are used to determine pricing and strategy (a very common thing), put that process in the app.  Spreadsheets are difficult to manage, and do not provide an effective report and dashboard option to manage ROI.

Rather than mustering tremendous amounts of resources for training and change plans to get users to adopt your app, focus on simple, but key things that will draw users in. 

  • Reduce the amount of work, specifically administrivia, that people have to do so they can spend more time in front of customers.
  • Present users with clear and concise information sets that tells the customer’s story  (the abridged version, please!).
  • Make the data you measure the bi-products of customer interactions instead of being a compilation of tedious data entry by users.

Too often, users feel like CRM is a big brother tool, or that they are entering information only to benefit their management. When designed correctly, the users’ interactions with the app should tell their story of what they do on a daily basis, who they are talking to and anticipated results from their work.

Let me sum it up very simply: be innovative and creative when designing your application.  Make people’s lives easier. Focus on helping them be successful.  Strive for the ultimate goal– to make your enterprise applications fun. Once you’ve done this, you won’t need to look to adoption rate to answer the question of whether your CRM is worth the subscription.

The Biggest Challenge for Cloud Computing

Cloud Computing today faces many challenges in perception, ranging from:

  • perceived lack of security,
  • supposed lack of functionality, and
  • the struggle for IT to see the blinking lights on servers in corporate data centers.

However, these “challenges” are illusions. The Cloud is proving to be far more secure than premise-based software, and companies like Salesforce.com dish out innovation faster than legacy technology vendors can even grasp. And as it may be a challenge to manage blinking lights on servers, this is by far not the largest roadblock for the adoption of the Cloud. 

The biggest challenge for Cloud computing today is that companies have already wasted their budgets failing with premise-based software, by the time they realize the Cloud is the only solution to getting them out of the mess they are in.

The Cloud from the Machine provides decision makers and project sponsors with the hope of turning back the clock and avoiding the mistakes that led their projects to failure.  Unfortunately, while time travel may be theoretically possible, once the budget has been spent on a project, it’s spent– regardless of the outcome.

This means that the failure of your project, as it turns out, is very profitable for legacy software vendors.  It’s even more profitable for global systems integrators who place armies of consultants on the ground for months and even years at a time eschewing project success.  

The Cloud from the Machine is your opportunity to bring this destructive cycle to an end.  Business decision makers are empowered by the Cloud because of its immediacy and ease of use.  It also gives them a clear vision for how applications can help them achieve their business objectives faster, with better results and with far less risk than with legacy technology. 

The Cavalry, Gandalf, and the Cloud

What’s a bigger failure–

  • a nine-month software implementation in its 24th month?
  • an application that is rolled out and has zero adoption?
  • an application that negatively impacts a business’s ability to function, even though it meets all of the detailed requirements and specifications?

It’s a far too common situation where you launch a project with the promise of delivering big benefits or solving a big problem.  But the project goes over time and over budget and turns from a strategic initiative to what feels like a death march.

We wish we could turn back the clock and apply what we’ve learned to correct the mistakes of the past. Sometimes, just making simple “tweaks” is all it takes to have a profound impact on the functionality of an app.

Recently, a perplexing trend has been occurring. People have been turning to Cloud-based apps, like salesforce.comGoogle Apps, and others, to close the gaps in enterprise software, improving overall usability, and, in many cases, rescuing failed implementations.

It’s like the cavalry coming over the hill at the most desperate moment in a movie, or when the giant eagles swoop from the sky in The Lord of the Rings, Return of the King, to save Frodo and Sam from the lava gushing from Mount Doom.  This is a plot twist called Deus Ex Machina, or “god from the machine,” that has been around since ancient Greek tragedies.

To save us from our own tragedies, we can change the outcome of technology implementations gone bad in a similarly unexpected way using the Cloud. The impact is just as dramatic. Only, this is real life, and it has real meaning for our businesses and our careers.  This is the Cloud from the Machine… Nebula Ex Machina.