In our recent company update, we talked about a trend we are following – the consumerization of business applications. For this post I would like to provide one example of this trend that I think is really interesting. A recent post on Tech Crunch talked about the elements of successful consumer internet applications like Facebook, Twitter etc. The key elements are:

– clear purpose

– simple to use

– fun

Let’s explore each of these in a bit more detail and how these ideas can apply to business applications. For the sake of this post, I am going to talk about a business application in the context of what we create for our clients – specific purpose analytics and planning applications built using commercially available on-premise software and SaaS platforms. The truth is that our part of the business application market is lagging some of the business process focused SaaS applications currently available, especially for the SMB market. Given this reality, these concepts are very relevant if we hope to create useful apps that effectively facilitate data driven decision making.

Clear purpose – It may seem odd that since we are talking about single purpose analytics and planning apps that “clear purpose” would be a problem – but it is. Many organizations have a vague notion of using data more effectively to support decision making but don’t really think through what that means. This lack of clarity leads to bloated applications that try to do everything for everyone but really serve no clear purpose. We advocate that you fight the bloat by being clear in the problem you are trying to solve and starting small and evolving your application to meet the changing needs of the business.

Simple to use – Sophisticated web based, analytics front ends have created a confusing proliferation of 3D graphs and charts with wild colors. The goal it seems is to mimic an airplane cockpit to create the illusion of control. We need to take a lesson from Edward Tufte and Dona Wong – “less is more”. Use data to tell a story and not to impress your friends with flashy interfaces – bling may work if you are a rap star but not for business analytics. Think about the different people using the application and create the right interface for each user group. Spend time thinking about navigation. It is the little details that will make the application simple to use.

Fun – Since we are talking about business applications, let’s change the word “fun” to “useful”. This is probably the biggest short coming for the current breed of analytics and planning applications, but that is changing quickly. Although these apps are typically very good at presenting structured data, they are not as strong with unstructured data and commentary. Yet it is this ability to share thoughts and look at trends in unstructured data that will ultimately make these tools more useful and, well, fun.

The bottom line with all of these concepts is that today’s business applications, in particular analytics and planning apps, need to look to successful consumer applications as a model for how people work. If designed correctly, you will create an application that is viral (at least within that organization) and is something that people will seamlessly engage with throughout the day to make better decisions.

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