Consumerizing the enterprise

So what does it really mean to “consumerize” an enterprise software product? This has become quite a buzzword lately, even spawning an entire conference around the topic in downtown SF a few months ago.

Indeed, Citrix CEO Mark Templeton has previously identified “three pillars” that serve as the foundation of our ongoing strategy of design excellence: simplify + unify + consumerize. The first two seem pretty straight-forward enough–simplify the literally thousands of options/menus/settings/features, and bring family-like coherence to the variously acquired products– but that last word, “consumerize”…Hmm! Is it just a buzzword to get board members excited? Is it more than simply making an interface visually “stylish” a la Apple or Metro (per whatever the style du jour happens to be)?

For me, “consumerizing” enterprise software has been a personal pursuit for quite some time, since my days back at Oracle, Adobe, Cisco, etc. I’ve always been inspired to inject nuanced humanity, aesthetic virtue, and emotionally resonant story into the tedious humdrum of brutally mechanistic business process systems. Why not strive to breathe life into work-based interfaces, and thus delight into daily routines? Why can’t work be fun? :-)

 

More specifically, to consumerize enterprise apps means for me…

* Basing product decisions upon modern, evolving expectations shaped by consumer interfaces and brands, particularly in terms of performance, usability, functionality, style, and story (the argument as to how this product or service weaves into my daily rhythms). From video game consoles to smartphones to home AV systems to in-car telematics–People are used to certain things at home, why not apply them at work too? Less to learn, more to enjoy! Makes sense, no?

* Regarding the “user” as an emotive, dynamic human being who seeks a meaningful, engaging life, not just a banal data point processed through arcane systems for pure efficiency’s sake. This goes for IT Admins too. Hey, they use consumer tech/devices too right? As a former mentor said, “There’s no such thing as enterprise users, because we’re all consumers.” Ask any IT Admin or Program Manager and they’ll almost always cite Disney, Virgin, Lexus, Ritz-Carlton, etc. as benchmarks for stellar experiences that respect the human being.

* Crafting elegant, beautiful Interface visuals that look like a million bucks. (Since that’s how much the company likely paid ;-) Yes it’s about creating a stylish, attractive visual language system that carries across device form factors and platforms in a compelling yet coherent manner. This shapes an emotional relationship that impacts perception of utility and value.

* Applying fast, fluid behaviors & animations, with visual feedback, which leverage modern, patternizable consumer widget sets and technologies (CSS 3, Javascript libraries, HTML 5, mobile touch frameworks, etc.). Again, it’s about achieving expectations folks have with consumer tech back at home, but for work too. Gotta be snappy and responsive everywhere!

* Shaping a friendly, approachable verbal language and textual tone that fits the times, culture, generation. Why sound like a draconian android from 1970s with arcane error messages or stern instructions? We should use wit and charm, and thus create a distinct personality that evokes the product brand in a positive, reinforcing manner, not some opaque scolding “system”.

* Considering the total, integrated lifestyle and life cycles of the user, her context, and primary activities across multiple devices and situations. Creating something that truly blends into the work / life continuum of productivity (what Citrix CEO calls “life slicing”), so it all doesn’t feel like “going to work” or alien intrusion that breaks apart the flow of activity with staccato moments of confusion, disappointment, frustration, etc. (This echoes John Dewey’s points about distracted experiences in Art as Experience)

 

Stepping back, in my view consumerization is influenced by the following factors, shaped by user research and design activities happening in concert:

– The Environment: locational context of use / types of devices / transient & emergent behaviors, mindful of people on the go, work shifting from non-traditional office spaces, etc.

– The Consumer: personal attitudes and expectations about the task, how it’s delivered, how it’s consumed, and thus useful in daily living (life-slicing metaphor) from a truly human POV, not some binary data processor.

– The Embodiment: visual interface style, interactive motions, contextual smarts, language tone, all add up to a compelling offering worthy of engagement.

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