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Every November, IDC’s lead analyst for business software, Michael Fauscette, publishes an annual list of predictions for enterprise applications trends during the next year.  Then, early in the New Year, he publishes a report that shows how well his team did the year before.  The analysts haven’t always had a great track record when it comes to predicting enterprise application support and enterprise application management trends.

In 2011, for example, IDC predicted that 2012 would be the year when businesses would start the move from enterprise applications eats hosted in the data center to the public cloud, via IaaS (infrastructure as a service).  In January of this year, Fauscette gave his team an “A” grade for their prediction that 2.4% of enterprise application seats would move to the public cloud by the end of 2012.

Then he stepped up the prediction for 2013, with a prediction that 2013 will see more than half of all new enterprise application licenses coming from public cloud-based services. While that seems like a very rapid adoption rate, consumer applications and employee expectations on enterprise application support and management are fueling the move to the Cloud.

Thanks to the success of consumer applications, employees have come to expect the same high level of functionality and ease of use in business applications. Of course, it takes more than user-friendly interfaces to deliver an enterprise application that can be managed securely and supported cost-effectively.

 

Lessons from the App Store

The biggest lesson in enterprise application management learned from the billions of app store downloads is that the success of any new application depends on usability. It isn’t enough that the applications look good.  They have to offer a clear business benefit that drives productivity and enforces processes and security procedures. Without built-in procedures and processes as well as ease-of-use, employees will struggle to adopt the new tools, and will by-pass procedures to find the easiest way of completing a task.

One lesson that enterprise application management teams can take from consumer applications is that ergonomics have to be front and center in the product’s design, especially for mobile applications.  Commands, navigation, and scrolling have to suit the way that users intuitively use mobile devices with one or two fingers.  Learning to “think mobile” and eliminate the number of drop-down menus and complex navigation options is critical when designing or evaluating a new enterprise application, since it’s a near-certainty that the application will be accessed by an increasing number of mobile devices.

Limiting the number of steps required to complete a task is another lesson from the app store.  If users have to go through more than a couple of screens for a simple task – say submitting an expense report, or submitting a new order – then it’s too complex compared to the consumer applications users are accustomed to using.

Limiting the number of screens required to complete a task sounds like common sense, doesn’t it?  But it makes a huge change in how enterprise application support works after the application is deployed, simplifying everything from training to troubleshooting and help desk follow-up.  Think about the process of submitting a new order.  Here are the typical steps in a traditional enterprise application:

  • Verify information from a CRM system (terms, credit limits, delivery details, required approvals, etc.).
  • Enter the order information for the ERP (purchase order, specifications, budget).
  • Submit the order for credit or manufacturing approval.
  • Generate confirmations, invoices, ordering, shipping, etc.

Once upon a time, creating and supporting an application that required data from that many different databases and resources would have involved a number of drop-down menus, or multiple screens. Today, users simply won’t accept a cumbersome design.  “Light and fast” applications that allow users to complete a single task, not monolithic applications that try to manage an entire business process, are the rule.

Reducing Enterprise Application Support Costs

Luckily, catering to the user’s preference for simple applications has several important side benefits.  Improving employee satisfaction and productivity also helps to reduce security risks, and cuts enterprise application support costs.

Reducing security risks starts with a coordinated suite of technical- and policy-based solutions that are consistently applied.  Processes for device and network access controls, local and remote data wipe, device configuration, data encryption, patching and updating, authentication, device partitioning, security and appropriate use monitoring, and the like can be built into new applications, especially if BYOD policies are in place.

It’s also important to manage user compliance by developing user agreements and training users to understand mobile security risks, their responsibilities, acceptable use policies, prerequisites for connecting any device to the network, inappropriate use, and so on. Cloud-based applications make it possible to implement processes that notifying users when they are out of compliance and explain why they are out of compliance, while listing the steps they must take to become compliant before they can access applications or network resources.

Reducing enterprise application support costs happens when applications are simpler, and device management is centralized. MDM (Mobile Device Management) tools install an agent on the device, allowing IT to monitor it for status and configuration settings, and push applications, configuration settings, and software patches as necessary.

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