Does your Enterprise Web Application Vendor Make it Simple and Convenient for your Users?

Jeff Cann, Chief Strategist & CIO, Encore Electric Inc.
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Jeff Cann, Chief Strategist & CIO, Encore Electric Inc.

Three advancements in computing technology have significantly enhanced the benefits for both consumers and business–cloud, mobile, and social computing. In this article, we will challenge technology vendors that provide solutions for businesses to provide full benefits from these advancements.

In recent years, cloud, mobile, and social computing combined to progress the integration of information on the internet. Cloud computing provides users inexpensive access to their information. Mobile is usually enabled by cloud computing to provide access to user’s information from any device that connects to the internet. Social computing bridges the gap between social behavior and computer systems.

Consumers receive many benefits from this integration of information such as convenience and simplicity. Now, they spend less time hassling with technology and more time enjoying its use.

For example, consumer services take advantage of single sign-on (Google+, Facebook) to simplify the registration process to post reviews, comments, and interact with com­panies. This is much simpler than just a few years ago when con­sumers were forced to create multiple accounts and remem­ber multiple passwords.

When I researched and wrote this article, I used three devices and delivered it from my OneDrive account. The cloud technology helped me keep my work in progress and simplified my use of technology–meaning I didn’t have to worry about revisions and instead can focus on the article.

 Business technology vendors often struggle with the enterprise architecture challenge of changing technology 

The result of the advances of cloud, mobile, and social is that consumers can experience simple and convenient solutions through it. When they come to work, they bring the same expectations with them–that their business computing should be simple and convenient.

The expectation of the users, presents a challenge to CIOs. The question for CIOs is whether their business technology vendors are achieving the same level of integration for their enterprise web applications.

Two years ago we migrated to a new ERP system. Rather than dealing with the complexity of standing up infrastructure on-site, we explored the vendor’s Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) option. The benefits were too good to pass up because the storage and compute technology is managed by the vendor and they complete software upgrades as part of the maintenance fee. In short, we are able to provide a web-based ERP for our 600+ employees (500 of them work on construction sites).

Unfortunately, they vendor does not integrate with Microsoft Active Directory. So we have a separate set of user credentials within the ERP database. This is not simple or convenient for our users. It’s likely that we’ll move our Active Directory infrastructure into Office 365 and hopefully at that time, the ERP vendor will integrate with it.

In the 2015 Construction Technology Report (JBKnowledge. com), 66.2 percent of users surveyed use four or more applications each day. 26 percent of the same user community reported that none of their software applications integrated and 63.5 percent reported that only two of their applications integrated. The survey results illustrate that business technology vendors have not achieved the integration desired by their users and that their users do not experience the same convenience and simplicity at work.

Business technology is often perceived to be more complex and requires higher security. While this is true to some extent, I think that Google and Apple have shown that it is possible to provide simple and convenient services to end users that hide complex computing behind-the-scenes.

Predicting the future is difficult, but Based on a 2014 Gartner analysis, (Adoption of Cloud ERP, 2013 through 2023), 47 percent of organizations surveyed plan to move their core ERP systems into the cloud within five years. CIOs must continue to challenge their technology vendors to leverage cloud, mobile, and social computing to provide simple and convenient solutions to business users.

In my observations business tech­nology vendors often struggle with the enterprise architecture challenge of changing technology. Their solu­tions are often too dependent on cur­rent technology and become brittle when their engineers try to bolt on new technology to enable new features. Those with the most brittle architectures tend to go out of business.

The convergence of cloud, mobile, and social provides two opportunities for CIOs to provide better solutions for their business users.

First, now is a great time for CIOs to work with established business technology vendors to ask for new features, push integration standards to interchange information, require integration, and plan on a 3-5 year horizon.

The simple question to ask your technology vendors is: What are you doing to make your product simple and convenient for my end-users? Then you can jump off into the specific needs around cloud, mobile, and social computing for your users.

One of the reasons we chose our ERP vendor and agreed to the SaaS implementation is because they developed a web services API with the release of their web-based version. Although the API was nascent when we went live in 2013, they continue to invest in its capabilities. Now, we are implementing a third-party mobile workforce application for the service portion of our business. This will make it simple and convenient for our service technicians to complete work orders using mobile technology. It will integrate the work order information with our ERP system. The technicians will be happy and the service accountants will be happy because their business work will be simpler and more convenient.

Unfortunately, your business technology vendors may not have an acceptable answer to the challenge. Fortunately, there are a new crop of companies willing to provide enterprise software applications that are built with technology standards that more easily enable cloud, mobile and social technology. They also understand integration because their software engineers work in the technology paradigm where everything is connected.

If you entertain new solutions, be sure to screen the technology vendor’s enterprise architecture. They should be able to show a roadmap that enables them to swap out technology over the long-term horizon (5-10 years). This will allow you to choose a vendor that will change with the future changes coming in technology.

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