Gone are the days when your IT team were the only ones in the office who knew how to use technology. And with this change in tech aptitude comes a change in approach to enterprise software. A space that has historically been quite slow to evolve, 2018 is set to bring about a few changes to the status quo.
As so many businesses begin on their digital transformation journeys, these are some of the enterprise software trends they should be watching in 2018.
#1 SMART ENTERPRISE SOFTWARE
With smart enterprise solutions, a sales agent is so much more than someone just trying to sell you something. Using advanced technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning, your sales team will seamlessly have access to critical customer data, notes Mervin Miemoukanda, a senior research analyst for Africa at International Data Corporation (IDC). If they can easily pull up information about past invoices, previous transactions and payment terms, they’re better equipped to serve the customer and can close deals more effectively. “Having actionable business data handy via business intelligence and reporting tools, organisations will leverage on this to drive critical business operations and strategies more efficiently and effectively.”
Greg Palmer, a sales director for Sage Enterprise Africa, agrees. If real-time data is fed to operational staff, the business can act on what is happening in the moment, and improving the intelligence within their organisations allows business leaders to make more strategic decisions. Along with this, Palmer believes that smart businesses will bring more and more apps and services together via a single, united interface, which makes it possible to do everything on a single screen without needing to switch between different applications.
#2 USER EXPERIENCE
In the past year, we’ve seen a renewed focus on the user and the user experience and enterprise software will soon reflect this, says Wynand Smit, CEO, Inovo. “Increasingly, business users are starting to expect the same type of experience from enterprise software as they do on popular consumer platforms like Facebook and Instagram. The onus is on developers to create an experience that is comfortable, easy and familiar – all of which will help companies derive better business results from their projects.”
In addition, technology needs to be always on and easily available so that employees can work when they want to and where they want to – Paula Sartini, BrandQuantum
More efficient and productive output has resultant benefits from a customer experience perspective, which, in turn, boosts the business as a whole. As an example, Smit suggests that a business could incorporate gamification software into their contact centre environment to appeal to, and better motivate, their younger employees, who were likely to have grown up with some sort of gaming console.
According to Paula Sartini, founder and CEO of BrandQuantum, users are becoming more and more vocal about their experiences and if a technology is not easy to use or requires additional time and energy, they won’t use it. That said, she cautions that any focus on user experience should be aimed at solving solid business needs. If you think of the employees within your organisation as ‘consumers’ of technology, the tools and solutions used in the enterprise space should ideally work in the same way as regular consumer technology.
“As such, user experience becomes a critical component to the adoption of enterprise software. In addition, technology needs to be always on and easily available so that employees can work when they want to and where they want to. If it isn’t available as and when employees want to use it, it won’t be adopted,” Sartini continues.
In line with the above, more and more enterprises are startingto recognise that automation can have a positive impact on user experience. To reap the benefits of automation, successful digital enterprises should aim to automate the entire business process, not create islands of automation. These were so typical in the past and demand that humans bridge the gaps between different bits and pieces of information, notes Jaco Viljoen, an agile consultant at IndigoCube. Traditionally, customers would talk to employees who would capture necessary information on internal systems, but now we want customers to interact directly with the business via software. This makes processes quick and simple for customers who want to get on with their lives, he points out.
“Automating discrete processes obviously yields some benefits, but in order to obtain the full benefit, islands of automation must be connected and entire processes automated. The human handover element between discrete processes typically leads to inefficiencies, problems, and poor customer service.”
Having spoken about how the right solutions can help a business make more informed decisions using corporate and customer data, Leon Coetzer, COO of redPanda Software, believes that the Internet of Things (IoT) will unlock these data insights. This will bridge the gap between digital and physical worlds, says Coetzer. “Businesses can use IoT to entice customers to enter particular outlets with personalised promotions, and then track how successful these campaigns are at an individual level. Sales associates will know exactly when a particular customer enters a shop and can provide a personalised experience as they will have the customer’s profile on a tablet or mobile phone.”
The onus is on developers to create an experience that is comfortable, easy and familiar – all of which will help companies derive better business results from their projects – Wynand Smit, Inovo
From a manufacturing perspective, IoT is key to any digital transformation effort, adds Kerry Hope, business development manager at Magic Software South Africa. Here, an enterprise will fit sensors to existing technologies, or purchase new technologies, and the data generated via these sensors is used to streamline the supply chain, eliminate waste and better forecast demand.
For Kethan Parbhoo, chief marketing and operations officer at Microsoft South Africa, in order for IoT to have any real impact, it needs a little help. He says cloud computing will be the push IoT needs to really come to the forefront in 2018.
Parbhoo describes cloud as the platform for the next generation of businesses. “Cloud computing is driving the transformation of the IT industry across the entire stack, offering dramatic improvements in business agility, operational efficiency and IT maturity with significant cost savings.”
Locally, Miemoukanda thinks cloud-based enterprise software may just outpace on-premises versions, as more and more organisations in South Africa migrate their application workloads to the cloud.
While it may seem like we’ve been talking about `cloud’ as a `trend’ for several years, this momentum will only continue this year, Palmer points out. We are seeing more and more companies of all sizes look beyond on-premises software implementations or large, complex private cloud deployments, towards the benefits of leaner, more agile public and hybrid cloud solutions, he continues. “With a new generation of business management software, they can choose from new alternatives that are powerful, adaptable and quick to pay for themselves.”
But as is the case with anything, along with the good, comes the bad. Hope cautions that employees who use their personal devices and email accounts, and become accustomed to using popular cloud sharing solutions, run the risk of leaking sensitive corporate information. She calls on businesses to educate employees about the risks and develop enterprise solutions that are engaging enough so that employees aren’t tempted to reach for other solutions that are less reliable and secure.
“Today, enterprise software must deliver personalised experiences that are tailored to new working styles across social and mobile,” says Palmer. “This allows people to be productive wherever they are.”
Does one size fit all?
Every business is different. As such, every business has different needs. With this in mind, should you spend a sizable amount of time and money conceptualising and developing a bespoke solution to meet your unique needs? Well, according to industry insiders, the verdict is still out on that one.
Some advise that businesses avoid developing bespoke software, or even making extensive customisations to business solutions, because these are expensive and complex to support, difficult to scale and enrich with new features as the business grows and are generally quite hard to integrate with other business software the company uses.
On the other end of the spectrum, a bespoke solution can be beneficial from a brand perspective as it showcases the capabilities of the organisation, as well as the character of the business. This is especially true for the software your customers use to engage directly with your business, which has to be quick and efficient and designed specifically for your business needs.
Ultimately, the most critical requirement for any software solution is that is has to meet the business need. If a bespoke solution is required to meet this need, then it should be considered. However, a bespoke solution for the sake of a bespoke solution simply isn’t necessary.
Enterprise solutions go consumer
For Leon Coetzer, from redPanda Software, it is better for a business to create multiple, specialised, intuitive applications that require no formal training than it is to create something too complex. In doing so, employees are generally more willing to use these tools because they require minimal effort.
An example of this can be seen in some local banks where employees are tasked with merely guiding customers as they complete tasks on their own tablet or smartphone, says IndigoCube’s Jaco Viljoen. With this approach, enterprise systems mimic what customers are used to, what they prefer and systems are accessed via a device they know how to use. Modern enterprise solutions and apps need to be as good as the apps people already use and love, which is quite a departure from the average enterprise system in the wild today.
This article was first published in the March 2018 edition of ITWeb Brainstorm magazine. To read more, go to the Brainstorm website.