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Understanding the New Enterprise Application Landscape

In the past few years, we have witnessed a series of fundamental shifts in the way people think about and engage with their business systems. We’ve seen the birth and maturation of the mobile revolution, we’ve seen the great migration to the cloud, and we’ve seen the rise of user driven BI. Additionally, we’ve witnessed unprecedented data breaches that have forced us to engineer robust security into all of our systems. Lastly, we’ve seen a renewed emphasis on usability driven by the rise of the app model, smaller form factors and an increased desire for efficiency. Each of these are exciting and revolutionary on their own. Together, they represent an entirely new and fundamentally different model for enterprise IT. I call this the New Enterprise Application Landscape.

This new landscape can be described in a simple statement: “Increasingly, enterprises need the ability for any information worker to have access to all appropriate systems and data at all times from anywhere and any device in a secure and seamless fashion.” This sounds like a lofty goal, but it’s not negotiable, this is the way we work now, and our systems must support this.

We can further break this down into a few core statements:

Everybody has a Smart Phone

This is now simple fact. If you’re an information worker, you have a smartphone; probably a tablet as well. Naturally, you want to use your devices to help you get your work done. The reality is, however, that many enterprises were caught flat-footed and are just now understanding that BYOD and enterprise mobility are no longer just nice-to-haves. Moreover, many enterprises just beginning to develop a strategy for addressing this. We know now that our strategic efforts will include building new mobile interfaces to our enterprise data, retrofitting of existing systems to support BYOD, and including mobility in our list of must-haves in any platform or product selection. The good news is, there is quite a bit of low hanging fruit to be picked in the enterprise mobility tree. Often, simple UI refreshes or lightweight mobile apps can significantly improve the mobile accessibility and usability of key applications. The key to an effective mobile strategy is understanding this and being able to identify and prioritize these efforts for value and effect.

Security is Paramount

Target, Home Depot, Global Payments, TriCare, Citibank, Sony; the list goes on and on. We’ve finally begun to understand that security is not optional. We can no longer afford to cut corners on security in our application architecture and planning. Breaches can cost billions and irreparably damage our reputation with our customers and even our employees. Our customers have entrusted us with their critically sensitive data, and we have an obligation to ensure that our systems are secure at every level from physical systems access to intrusion hardening to preventing cross-site scripting and SQL Injections. We must ensure that robust security is built into all of our applications, and hold software vendors equally accountable for providing secure systems.

Unusable Systems are not Used

I was asked recently what constitutes success in application development. I thought about it a bit and answered simply “User Adoption”. It’s remarkable how many systems I’ve seen that succeeded in meeting all the requirements, and yet had poor user adoption and poor user satisfaction. What I’ve come to understand is that user adoption is a core metric of success and that usability is a key component of user adoption. Put simply: unusable systems are not used. domain tech info . I’ve begun to suspect that the proliferation of Excel spreadsheets and Access databases running core business processes has less to do with the lack of availability of enterprise functionality and more to do with how unusable those enterprise systems are. The reality is that people will find a way to do their jobs, and if your enterprise systems aren’t usable, they will rely on tools that are.

As with mobility, there are a great deal of quick wins to be had here. Rather than completely rebuilding a system because of poor user adoption, a simple UI refresh driven by core principles of user experience, accessibility and usability can dramatically increase user adoption.

Timely, Accurate Data Enables the Agile Enterprise

The Agile Enterprise seems like a contradiction in terms. Time and again we’ve seen powerful, well-funded and well-regarded companies get eaten alive by small agile newcomers.

But does it need to be this way? Are enterprises so unable to adapt and pivot that they will inevitably fall to their newer faster competitors? I don’t think so. The key here is information. Enterprises fail when they fail to innovate, and enterprises fail to innovate when they lack timely, usable, and actionable data. Let’s face it, they have plenty of funds to be innovative, what they lack is a clear vision of what their customers are doing; what their customers need. Often they only find out when their customers abandon them in droves for the new, innovative products of their competitors. It seems obvious after the fact, and it could have easily been developed, if only they had known.

So, the lesson to draw from this is that systems must collect user and usage data and that data must be made available for rapid analysis. Understanding market trends as they are emerging depends on flexible, user-driven and intuitive business intelligence systems that stand on a foundation of timely, comprehensive and accurate data.

In upcoming posts, I’ll dig more deeply into each of these to understand the state of the art and best practices as well as explore how we can leverage these principles to innovate and differentiate our businesses.

Bio: Chris Sorel is a senior architect with Statera, focusing on enterprise application architecture and application development. Chris has spent many years in the industry evangelizing user-centric design and the role of custom software in helping companies stay innovative. When he’s not helping our clients, he can be found hiking one of Colorado’s 14ers or rock climbing in one of the front range canyons.