Achieving the nirvana of end-user pull in enterprise computing

I recently did a briefing with Josh Greenbaum of Enterprise Applications Consulting on nGenera’s new collaboration platform for social business, called Spaces by nGenera. Josh and I had a great conversation about our unique approach to this market with this product, centered around having created a compelling user experience geared to drive end-user adoption.

Josh recently blogged about our conversation and makes a compelling point – SharePoint is a strong development environment, and it has a developer advantage in the market. What SharePoint does not have is an end-user advantage, like Excel had / has. With Excel, in many cases the end-users were the model developers and that led to the high degree of stickiness. The end-users felt a certain degree of control over their application and the ability to modify it at any time. I faced this in a prior startup which was selling an enterprise collaborative forecasting offering – the key requirement we found was the ability to export the models from our application to Excel. This was a huge barrier to adoption and Josh’s point came across very clearly to me.

With SharePoint, the IT departments are the ones in control of building the applications, and SharePoint has a distinct advantage with the IT department and developer community for collaborative business applications inside the enterprise over any other platform today. The end-user just needs solutions, and does not care so much about what platform was used to deliver them. To the degree IT can deliver adequate applications to the end-users in a timely manner, the end-users will be satisfied enough to NOT create a groundswell of support for a different platform. For some percentage of applications, this will be the case and SharePoint will be used.

However, with collaboration platforms, meeting some percentage of user cases in the long haul just does not work. These platforms thrive on increased usage and adoption in a viral way. The game is changing with enterprise applications for social and collaborative business uses. Bad applications with poor user experiences can no longer be forced up on end users. Today, there are simply too many choices, and end-users will gravitate to the choice that allows them to be most effective in doing their jobs and meeting their performance expectations. Witness Yammer’s adoption success as a use case. This social and collaborative business software market operates by a pull model. In the prior push model, the path of least resistance was to take whatever IT gave you as an end-user – in most cases, like financials and HR, it was required for the company to actually operate (try missing a payroll!). In the pull model, the path of least resistance is the application that is easily available and best suited for the job, as decided by the end-users.

This end-user pull will not happen overnight. It begins by addressing use cases where SharePoint applications are not being or cannot be provided by IT departments – where “good enough” won’t do or cannot be delivered. For example, the case of a collaboration environment for a company to interact with one to many partners or external vendors is a good example of a SharePoint weak spot. It is also a good example where an end-user can take control over the application needed to address their need and one where a compelling user experience (simple, intuitive, zero-training, and integrated with existing workflows) will make a compelling difference.

As end-users get experience with new application platforms like Spaces, demand will grow for these types of solutions over the more rigid SharePoint applications through end-user pull. This also leads to a developer advantage for the new platform as the user base grows and developers find an attractive market for creating templates, themes, and plug-in applications for these new generation platforms.

I too agree with Josh that the new generation application providers need a strong capability as teachers as well as application development expertise. Read our recent Flash Report and listen to our recent Webinar “Enterprise-wide Engagement by Design” for an example of how nGenera does this.

We are entering a very liberating decade in corporate computing for end users!