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Is All Software Created Equal?

Shifting apps to the cloud does not make them engagement ready.

In 2011 Geoffrey Moore first described a shift from traditional systems of record that store data, log transactions and maintain financial records to ‘systems of engagement’. The concept describes the new breed of applications designed to extract the possibilities offered by innovations in mobile, social, cloud and big data technology. These applications are seen to provide better collaboration and workflow for users.

So has there been a shift from systems of record to engagement? There is certainly a plethora of new business applications on the market. Meanwhile established on-premise vendors continually rush out new versions of software moved to the cloud. But are all of these applications truly systems of engagement? My answer is no.

Many of these applications are the same traditional on-premise systems but hosted in the cloud. Although cloud hosted systems have a lower and more predictable cost of ownership than the on-site predecessors, end users don’t actually get a better solution.

In the highly acquisitive technology industry, many so-called solutions are just a series of on-line modules plugged together based on business function. The result is users struggle to get to grips with new software and achieve the promised business benefits.

There are many products on the market whose features are equivalent or even greater than Apple products, yet Apple’s design still allows the product to stand out. Apple’s attention to detail and confidence that people want intuitive technology has cemented their legendary status.

The same applies for systems of engagement. Bolting on new functionality by acquiring software solutions, or by cutting code is the easy part. Incorporating great design into business software is much harder. Great design requires a fundamental understanding of not just the business process, but also the vision and best practice that the software will help achieve.

Take the example of CRM solutions. Nearly all CRM systems allow the user to report on the average length of time it takes a successful deal to pass through a particular stage of a sales process. However, few automatically prompt users towards specific deals that are taking longer than average and suggest an appropriate course of action.

To be able to interpret the data they provide, traditional systems require the user to have a high level of domain expertise. But for an organization to scale successfully it requires software that helps employees engage with each other more effectively. Software must have been designed with the underlying best practice, end-to-end business processes in mind and have an intuitive workflow, which informs the next stage of the process.

A process-centric rather than data-centric design architecture means that the application knows what the user, or their collaborator, needs to do next. This is how an application can help engage users and allow employees to affect the performance of the business. Providing insights and best practice to guide people throughout the organization to act on the performance of the business are the key levers in rapid business expansion.

The technology industry has long enjoyed the phrase ‘fit-for-purpose’, but much of the software used by organizations doesn’t meet this definition. Systems should put the right information in the hands of those who need it, when they need it, and guide them on how best to use it. It is these capabilities, which will power the growth of the most successful firms.

By Sean Hoban, CEO, Kimble Applications

This article first appeared on the Computer Business Review website on 6th March 2015.