Consumer vs. Enterprise Tech: Bridging the Innovation Gap

4 minute read
Chelsi Nakano avatar

Newsflash: Nobody in the enterprise is innovative.

Okay, that’s not entirely true; however, something like 99% of the companies that tell you they’re innovative, simply aren’t.

And it’s not their fault, it’s just that these days innovation is likeoriginality: it’s hard, if not impossible. In truth, consumer tech hasbecome the de facto watering hole for most enterprise developers, whichis  totally cool if you like a little social spice in your work flow,but many experts will tell you that things are getting way, way out of hand.

Below the Influence

The "Enterprise Two-Dot-Oh-Dear" era is best exemplified by the mighty falling of Google Wave. Though it was once haughtily touted as the second coming of e-mail, most companies found Wave to be a confusing, wonky mashup of social elements that didn't really fit as a collective unit in the business space.  

"This is not a measurability problem," wrote co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of MindTouch, Aaron Fulkerson, of the less than impressive success rate of Enterprise 2.0 deployments. "It stems primarily from the rampant misapplication of consumer technologies in the form of point applications."

And while nothing could be more true, the consumer tech train is way past the point of slowing down. If the enterprise can't at least try to catch up, where does that leave it?

Obsessed with Technology

“The kind of technological innovations that people get obsessed with don’t tend to come from the bowels of some big glass tower somewhere, or some back office system," said Michael Coté, an industry analyst with RedMonk. "They come from Facebook, Google and Twitter.” (And here we thought "optimization" was our favorite "O" word.) 

Take a look at Salesforce's Chatter, Yammer, Jive's Social Business Software, Socialcast, Socialtext, MangoSpring, SAP Streamwork, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. All of these products are based on, or have been heavily influenced by, some sort of whiz-bang-how-have-we-lived-our-entire-lives-without-this capability, such as activity streams or microblogging.

Learning Opportunities

As these big names continue to release such tools, so will smaller ones, and more startups will build their business models around them, and lo! Is that a US $250 million dollar social Web development venture fund backed by Facebook and Amazon we spy? It is! Just imagine how that will boost the consumer market (a.k.a. the E2.0 powerhouse). 

And therein lies the disconnect. 

Sure, these features are fun, familiar and collaborative. And okay, they're also way cheaper. But what about enterprise ready?

Keep it Simple, Stupid (+5 More S’s)

Here's a good mantra for the present and future: easy integration does not equal widespread adoption in the enterprise. Moreover, most companies don't want to adopt consumer tech wholesale. So, instead of focusing on how simple a product is, how awesome it is, or how few clicks it takes to mix in the new school, it might be wise to focus on a few old school ideas.

For example, R "Ray" Wang of softwareinsider took it back to the starting line in a great piece he wrote earlier this month. The article examines how consumer tech might be able to successfully stick in the business space if it's built with the enterprise in mind: 

  • Safety first: This is an easy one. Make sure the products you build do not disrupt or harm existing systems, or jeopardize how users perform daily work and operations.
  • Security: Products should pass encryption requirements, prevent data intrusion, and protect key intellectual property assets.
  • Scalability: The work place can be a very big place, and solutions should accordingly operate in a wide range of environments, as well as meet a wide range of usage demand. Further, users should be able to scale down if need be. 
  • Sustainability: Can you see your product lasting over a longer period of time (7 t0 10 years)?Training programs, knowledge transfer mechanisms, and support communities should be readily accessible. 
  • Simplicity: In the end, it should of course be just as easy to use these solutions as it is to use mobile or social tools.

There seems to be general agreement on these methods across the board, and yet, adoption is still an issue. Is it that nobody's listening, or are we missing something? Of course, this is still just the beginning. If you've got better ways to bring the enterprise up to speed with the rest of the world, we'd like to hear it. Or, if you don't think it's possible, tell us why.