Talk about "Modern Information Management Software" (or "Modern Enterprise Software") and you'll immediately get eye rolls as people picture images of legacy solutions born in the 1990's. Many of these large software solutions have unfortunately not evolved significantly in terms of usability or technology over the last years, having opted instead for adding more and more features that ultimately make the solution even more complex.
But starting now, these software systems are in for a big change. From CRMs to ERPs to Content Management, market analysts are predicting seismic shifts in these products as five major trends hit us all.
1. New Solutions Driven by the Demand for SaaS
A recent EbizQ article projects the SaaS market will balloon to $21.3 billion in revenue through 2015.
"Corporations," they say, "are increasingly less concerned with issues such as security, availability and performance that were once viewed as significant stumbling blocks to the growth of SaaS. The growth of industry giant Salesforce.com is a testament to this – the multi-billion dollar corporation holds some of the most critical data a company can have: their customer and prospect data."
Now the race is on for vendors to design and build SaaS versions of their flagship products. Creating a new product means an opportunity to capture new audiences by renewing both design and workflow, while keeping the solution comfortingly familiar for current users. The key to success will be a balancing act between the fresh and the familiar, luring new customers while pleasing your bread-and-butter users.
On top of that challenge, you need a team that knows modern web technology stacks from the inside out to get the product released quickly and efficiently... before your competition does.
On this topic, we highly recommend reading our whitepaper How To Get Amazing Software Out The Door Fast, a collection of modern product management, UI design and software development techniques that form the basis of any major software creation (or re-creation) project.
2. Analytics and Business Intelligence
One of 2012's biggest buzzwords is analytics, ranked as Gartner’s #2 trend in this year’s Top 10. "The volume of information within enterprises continues to grow at an astonishing rate," say Ovum software market analysts, "and investment is needed to both manage this information and turn it into actionable intelligence, through technologies such as business intelligence and analytics".
But analytics could either be the boost your business needs to bring its A game, or a disappointing waste of time and resources. If you want to use analytics to turn an Information Management System into an intelligent Information Management System, you face two challenges:
- Understanding the technology and algorithms available to extract, clean and organize vast masses of data so that only the most relevant, most useful intel bubbles to the top.
- A clear perception of the audience – What types of analytics do the users want to see? How can you present them in the interface so that the user immediately finds what they need to know and can apply it in a way that adds value to their bottom line?
Collecting data for data’s sake and creating analytics for analytics’ sake is just throwing away time and money. Only when you understand the user's core needs and have the technology to extract the most useful data can you give your users what they want, at the right time, in the right format. Anything less is a waste of your resources, too.
Analysts have been discussing context-awareness since mobile exploded in late 2010, but now it's starting to become a real force in the industry. This trend will only get hotter. True context-awareness centers on the user experience. Designers of context-aware features need to take into account:
- The user's state – habits, emotional state, biophysiological conditions.
- The user’s social environment – the presence of others, social interaction, group dynamics.
- The user’s tasks – spontaneous activity, engaged tasks, general goals.
But context-awareness isn't just about understanding how features should work. It’s about technology capabilities integrating different engines, from social networks, to presence and collaboration tools, to leveraging the data and analytics we talked about earlier.
Again, SalesForce.com is recognized as leading the charge with their introduction of new social and collaboration features. In the Healthcare space, Elsevier has been spearheading new initiatives in Clinical Decision Support, developing software that advises a physician on the best course of action given a patient’s context – information like symptoms, allergies and medications.
This is only the beginning. As context-awareness grows, instead of users being smarter about software, software will be smarter about its users.
4. Vertically-focused Software
One of Gartner’s 5 Trends for Enterprise Software predicts, "Vendors who are providing general technologies are moving towards vertically-specialized software, as the number of deployments they do in particular verticals rises."
We couldn't agree more.
This is particularly obvious in the Healthcare and Finance verticals, but this trend will spread in every domain, from Legal to Retail to Manufacturing. For example, look at Enterprise communications vendors Avaya, Cisco and Sprint Nextel, who have traditionally marketed their general purpose solutions to the Healthcare market. Recently, every one of them has released Healthcare-specific software.
As this trend continues, it's critical to have a product manager at the helm of every major market to outline the specific requirements each domain or vertical demands. The team is just as important. Team members, from the designer to the software developers, have to know their domain, from the usability standards mandated in some industries to engineering specifics like data exchange protocols.
5. Enterprise Tablets
Everyone has seen SAP hype its new mobile solutions, but many lower-profile organizations have put Enterprise solutions on tablets with varying degrees of success. After a year of excitement, we're left with two major issues for large Information Management Systems:
HTML5 or Native?
There are pros and cons for each. HTML5 becomes an attractive option as the technology matures, but most large organizations still opt for a native application, particularly for iOS, since analysts project the iPad will keep more than 50% of the tablet market through 2015.
HTML5 promises apps that run on all mobile platforms, and will work just as well on an iPad, Android device or BlackBerry Playbook. Unfortunately, HTML5 is young and still developing – the technology might not quite be ready for all the features you want to build. On the other hand, native APIs have the power... but that means different code for different devices, which costs more to develop.
But what you might not consider is a hybrid approach, and it could be your best option. A hybrid development strategy combines the flexibility of HTML5 with the features of a native app. At Macadamian, we've successfully developed several Enterprise-grade Healthcare applications using cross-mobile frameworks like Sencha (http://www.sencha.com/), and a judicious mix of HTML5 and native code. Doing this lets us create powerful, full-featured apps while saving money for our customers.
Every situation is different, so rather than ending the HTML5-vs-native debate once and for all in this article, we recommend you get the advice of a software expert who has built several mobile applications in your field.
How Can You Successfully “Port” a Complex Enterprise Product to Mobile?
Some of the worst mobile products are straight-up ports from desktop or Enterprise programs. Mobile users might be more hurried, switching cognitive context or just not able to use features the same way as they would with a monitor, mouse and keyboard. Many features either need to be dropped, simplified or adapted for users on the go.
Sometimes a mobile product shouldn't be a port of the flagship software at all, but an extension of the existing product, offering entirely new features that give mobile users what they're looking for.
Understanding the user needs and context for a mobile product, designing for the constraints of a mobile user and device and building it on the right technology platform are not decisions you should take lightly. You need the right mix of design and development skills to successfully carry out the promise of mobile for your users.
We recently covered this topic in some depth in our webinar Porting Complex Software To Mobile Platforms. Check out the recording.
Tracking the Trends
If your plans for the coming year include SaaS, analytics, context-awareness, vertically-focused software or Enterprise tablets, you won't be the first in the Enterprise software revolution.
But with any luck, you’ll get there before your competitors do.
About the Author
Didier Thizy has been a software professional for 13 years, holding a variety of positions in Software R&D and Product Management.
At Macadamian, Didier is Macadamian's VP Consulting, responsible for a cross-functional unit of design and development consultants specializing in healthcare software. His focus areas include healthcare software, usability of complex systems, and modern mobile and web technologies.
Didier is an active member of HIMSS, the Toronto Product Management Association, Silicon Valley Product Management Association, and the Ottawa OCRI association for technology.
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