Saturday, July 13, 2024

15 Minutes of Fame: Enterprise Software and The Casual User Revolution

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In the future, every vendor will be famous for 15 minutes. Unfortunately for everyone.

If your company is a typical consumer of enterprise software, there’s a new category of user emerging that is challenging accepted notions about how those users identify with the software they use and the vendor that provides it.

These new users are, for lack of a better term, casual users, and the accepted notions they are challenging revolve around whether they are users whose IT “identity” is linked to a vendor. Because if these users do not self-identify as an Oracle user or SAP user, for example – and I contend more and more of them don’t – the resulting disconnect will have huge ramifications for concepts like process effectiveness, return on investment, and the vendors’ role in “its” own user community.

Here’s the basic metric. In the next couple of years, assuming some reasonable progression towards the stated customer acquisition goals of the enterprise vendor community, the vast majority of users at a given company will be casual users. These are users who spend – and here I’m floating a number that has all the statistical validity of an educated guess – 15 minutes using any particular vendors’ product.

Before we go further, let me posit three important caveats about those 15 minutes. Don’t assume that these casual users are predominately worker bees laboring at the lower echelons of the enterprise. In many cases there may be as many or more casual users among upper management than there are in the cheap seats.

Caveat two: Don’t suppose those 15 minutes are insignificant or unimportant. In many cases, these may be the most important fifteen minutes that user spends in front of a computer every day. If it’s a sales person entering an order, or a loading dock employee clicking “order received” on a screen, those actions may be the ones that both ensure the profitability of the company and cost-justify the company’s investment in enterprise software. So these could actually be the most important 15 minutes of the day.

Last caveat: Don’t assume that these new users have any idea how important their 15 minutes of vendor fame are, or that those 15 minutes link them inextricably to the vendor whose software they are using. All too often, these casual users are, through a lack of adequate training and a lack of process-wide understanding, largely clueless about why they are performing these 15 minute tasks. They just do them. Day in and day out.

What this notion of 15 minutes of fame means for customers and their vendors is nothing short of revolutionary. On the customer side, it means that many of these casual users will be the weak link in their company’s plans for software-driven efficiency and cost-effectiveness. When you use something so infrequently – and, in many cases, casual users are actually using a key part of their enterprise software, like audit or financial reporting, once a quarter – your ability to master it, and therefore use it without error, is very limited. It’s hard to be effective if you’re a perpetual novice.

From the vendor side, this casual user revolution means that being able to count on a growing user community to champion your software and services is limited by the lack of identification with your software that these users have. Whereas the knowledgeable users in IT have always identified their own career success with the vendors they work most with (Oracle database admins, SAP ABAP programmers, etc.), these casual users have no such loyalty.

Indeed, they may have an antipathy toward the vendor whose software they neither understand how to use nor understand why they should bother using it at all.

Having casual users this disconnected from enterprise software is an enormous problem for all concerned. Including the growing legions of casual users themselves, for whom antipathy often translates into lower job satisfaction. If the value and importance of key tasks and processes are misunderstood and therefore performed incorrectly, companies that consume enterprise software will be hard pressed to make good on these investments. And the vendors who supply this software will find it harder and harder to point to an acceptable total cost of ownership, much less a high rate of return on investment, when key processes are fulfilled, often poorly, by dissatisfied and disconnected users.

What is needed is more attention to creating community for these casual users, meaningful community. That means vendors have to stop focusing on the IT department as their buyer/user community, and start looking outward towards the ocean of casual users that threatens to undermine the value of the vendors efforts.

And it also means that companies need to figure out how to make dedicated stakeholders out of these reluctant stars in the enterprise software firmament. Before those 15 minutes of enterprise vendor fame turn into 15 minutes of enterprise process mediocrity. If it hasn’t happened already.

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