The Rising Power and Influence of Enterprise Software Users

I can’t tell you how many times, over the course of my career, I’ve come across the following situation: The logistics team spends several months evaluating software vendors, including the incumbent ERP vendor, and they ultimately select a best-of-breed solution, but when they present their decision to the CIO (who was disconnected from the process), he responds by asking why the ERP vendor wasn’t selected. This then triggers another round of evaluations, this time with corporate IT involved. Or the CIO simply overrules the logistics team and selects the ERP vendor in the name of “IT simplification and standardization.”

Although the ERP vs. Best-of-Breed debate is less relevant today than it was years ago, you still see this type of thinking and behavior at many companies when it comes to selecting enterprise software. Aaron Levie, the co-founder and CEO of Box, described it well in a blog posting published last week on HBR:

The history of enterprise technology has been fairly unforgiving to the people intended to use it. For the past half-century, most information technology models propagated two unassailable truths: that enterprise technology was purchased by a select few, and the technology was bought for the company. As for the delight of the individuals using the technology itself? They’ll deal.

Levie believes this old model is no longer sustainable, that IT can no longer afford to ignore its users, and I agree. He goes on to say:

The enterprise architecture of the future needs to invert traditional thinking. Instead of looking at the world as a series of systems, networks, and data schemas from an enterprise top-down view, start looking at the users’ needs first and expand outward from there….In this new world, IT organizations focus on enabling productivity. User interfaces are no longer regarded indiscriminately, but weighed heavily [emphasis mine]. Control of information is no longer prioritized over making sure the right people can access it. CIOs who don’t empower their workforce become disempowered.

I expressed a similar viewpoint earlier this year in Will Supply Chain Software Vendors Start Competing on Design?:

Software vendors and those involved in the purchasing decision have always viewed “function” as more important than “form.” Their focus has been predominantly on checking off the feature/function list (Can the software do this?), with only passing consideration on the user experience (How easy and intuitive is the software to use?).

Software vendors and customers need to think beyond features and functions. Of course, evaluating whether a software application meets your functional requirements remains critically important. But after that list has been checked off, you need to give equal time and consideration to evaluating the user experience. You also need to give power users, the people who have to work and deliver results with the application every day, a greater voice in the purchasing decision.

The bottom line: Enterprise software users, specifically those on the frontlines of day-to-day operations, are gaining power and influence in selecting the solutions they want to use at work. The old formula of the CIO and corporate IT dictating what the masses will use is not going to work anymore, especially as a new generation of workers who have grown up in the social/mobile/cloud era enter the workforce. The relationship between corporate IT and users needs to change, and the way forward is being paved by some of the progressive CIOs Levie highlights in his article, like Mike Kail, the CIO of Netflix, who leads his organization by focusing on what IT can provide, instead of what IT can control.

Do you agree with me and Aaron Levie? Post a comment and share your viewpoint!