CXO

What enterprises need to learn from the consumer space

Here's a look of some of the most popular consumer apps, how they re-define the user experience and how to apply this knowledge to the enterprise world.

This post is part of a series co-produced by CBS Interactive and Blogworld, in conjunction with the latter's NMX BusinessNext Social 2013. The event will feature some of the world's leading social-business luminaries and influencers, each of whom will provide an up-close look at how the world's most successful businesses harness the power of social, both inside the organization and out.

During the past five users, the consumer experience has been fundamentally redefined. Touch-screen interfaces, activity streams, video and apps downloaded from app stores are now part of the consumer's day-to-day experience. And tablets and smartphones have been the main enablers of this transformation. While consumers benefit from revolutionary new tools and services, enterprise users remain far behind with point-and-click and cut-and-paste applications. CRM systems, ERP applications and most of our day-to-day software at work seem to have missed the innovation train. Analyst research also shows only single-digit adoption for social and collaborative tools in the enterprise while email remains the most used application with 85% adoption. Email attachments, introduced 20 years ago, are still the most common method used for business collaboration.

This discrepancy creates a huge opportunity to re-invent the enterprise user experience. The best way to do that might be to learn from the consumer space. Let's take a look of some of the most popular consumer apps, how they re-define the user experience and try to apply this knowledge to the enterprise world.

1. Information aggregation

20 million users read their news and social updates using Flipboard, the social magazine for tablets and phones. Flipboard aggregates information from multiple sources: your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn accounts as well as news sources and your favorites magazines.  So rather than navigating to a dozen sites, you can simply flip your preferred content using Flipboard.

What does this mean for enterprise users? How about aggregating all of your enterprise information and delivering it into one aggregated interface? Rather than toggling across multiple applications, tabs across to access information from multiple systems. This means one single place to get updates from your enterprise social network, shared documents, CRM, HR and ERP systems. All these events can be aggregated in a universal activity stream from all these systems.

2. Contextual user experience

Waze is also a great consumer application from which to learn. Waze is a social GPS application that leverages its 30M users to help you outsmart traffic. Waze leverages the context of its users: location and velocity to identify traffic jams and then suggests an alternative path to your destination.

In the enterprise, the user context is your work location: your home office, headquarters or the road, and your current working device and business activity. The next-generation contextual application will offer you to consult documents and emails pertinent to your next meeting on your calendar and will adapt the number of items to your current velocity and device. If you were stuck in a traffic jam in NYC, you would get only the most critical pieces of information to be ready for your meeting, but working from your home desktop, you'd get a more robust view.  The enterprise user experience needs to be contextual to deliver you the right information at the right time.

3. Access from all devices

Dropbox has made document sharing in the cloud really easy and user friendly. Dropbox delivers a great user experience from your browser, mobile, Windows or MAC desktops.

Enterprise apps also need to be available on all form factors: mobile, desktop and cloud. Since we are the same person at the office and on the road, we need a user experience that is consistent across all different form factors. Not necessarily ‘identical' since the application needs to adapt to the form factor but "consistent," so you don't have to learn another interface.

Bottom line

From these three popular consumer apps we conclude that the next generation enterprise user experience needs to be aggregated, contextual, and accessible from mobile, desktop, and cloud interfaces.

What should that product look like?  Take a look at Figure A:

Figure A shows a Universal Activity Stream which aggregates information from SharePoint, Salesforce.com, ERP and CRM systems. With this stream, you can get updates on what's going on in your organization from your desktop, mobile device or through a browser at an internet kiosk. From this figure, you can see that Mary has closed a deal with BDSF. If you click on Mary's picture, you will see her social profile which emanates from Yammer, IBM Connections or Microsoft SharePoint.  If you click on the BDSF account hyperlink or on the closed opportunity link, you launch into Salesforce.com and get access to the deal details. You also can see HR events from the HR system; for example you see that Donna has been promoted. When you can click on that event, the HR system launches to show more details (assuming you are authorized to see this information). Note the Universal Activity Stream is context-sensitive, so you only see the most important events if you are on an iPhone, and you are stuck in traffic, barely moving. Events related to your next meeting may appear, since the aggregated system has realized that you are driving to that meeting.

So that's the user experience of tomorrow: mobile, aggregated and contextual.

Yaacov Cohen is Co-Founder and Social CEO of harmon.ie (previously known as Mainsoft) since 1999. A collaboration visionary, he believes in keeping it human. Technology needs to enhance our human interactions, not consume them. Yaacov and his team have eloquently combined human interaction and technology with harmon.ie, which transforms email into a collaboration console.

Editor's Picks