Remember, the enterprise is a ‘lazy’ beast

Rob Borley
by
on 17 October 2012

… or at least, very very busy.

You’ve got a great idea for a new product that you are about to launch into the enterprise market. You are very excited about this because you know that enterprise is a very lucrative market and once you are in, you are in. You know that many enterprise products are poorly designed and are being shown up by the growing expectations of an increasingly technologically literate user base. The consumer technology explosion that has been centred around mobile has led to a workforce who demand more from the tools that they use every day in the workplace. Your exciting new product is born out of this consumer revolution. What can possible stop you now?

The trouble is, when moving into the enterprise space, your audience either doesn’t care about your new offering, or genuinely doesn’t have the time to care. Yes, the existing product or service is really ugly to look at, frustratingly difficult to use, and lots of experience and crazy workarounds are needed to get it to do what you want it to, but, the user does already have this experience and does know the workarounds to get the job done. They do not have the time, or the inclination, to learn a new system however shiny it may be. There are simply too many other things to do.

Enterprise problems are really really hard

At the heart of the enterprise problem is that the tasks that they are trying to accomplish are really hard. The reason that years of work and millions of pounds have gone into what seems like an ageing infrastructure is that, for the most part, it takes such an investment to get it right.

Most businesses at enterprise level are not willing to risk the stability of their operation by taking the plunge with exciting new technologies such as moving to cloud computing with all the benefits that they may bring. They are not happy to roll out mobile devices on a whim or drop ‘salesforce’ for ‘workday’ or similar. SAP is a really really important piece of infrastructure to these businesses; it took an age to adopt it, they are not going to just drop it.

There are many new start-ups trying to engage with this market. But it takes time to understand how and why these businesses work the way they do. A useful principle to remember when developing your product or service for this space is something I’ve seen referred to as ‘The Zero Overhead Principle’.

Enterprise problems are very very complex

The problems that enterprise has to deal with are often very complex. ‘Workday’, for example, will never be an adequate replacement for an enterprise class user of ‘salesforce’. It’s simply not up to the job. Enterprise users, in general, already assume this to be the case and so will not invest the time to learn enough about a new product to make a decision. Even if a new product is adopted for a particular task, day to day users will tend to glaze over during the 3 day training course, try to pick up what they need from the provided slides when they get to a particular issue, and then end up asking someone who has already taken the time to work it out.

The idea behind The Zero Overhead Principle is to make sure that the user needs zero overhead to learn how to do something new. It should be just obvious. This is a principle that should be close to the hearts of those developing and running mobile projects in the recent years. Mobile has forced us to consider simplicity in when designing each new feature or piece of functionality.

Simplicity is complex

If you can design your products and services with as little learning curve as possible, and so that it’s just obvious how to get things done, then you stand a much greater chance of having an impact in the very complex world of enterprise.  Enterprise users do not have the time or the inclination to invest in learning a new product.

Simplicity is complex, as Steve Jobs once said; “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple.”

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