Over the past few years, the apps you use in your personal life have gotten all sexy, fun, and damn easy to use, thanks in no small part to innovations from social networks and tools and experiences built specifically for smartphones and tablets. Meanwhile, the software you use at work has traditionally remained clunky and thoroughly unexciting. That’s changing though, as more and more of the kinds of experiences built for consumers start working their way into the enterprise.
Take the latest iteration of Box.net, for example. The five year-old cloud-based, document-sharing and collaboration utility is currently used in 10,000 companies. Today, it released new features that have taken a page from social networking. A discussions page (above) adopts the commenting paradigm you’re used to seeing in Facebook. And real-time notifications, that keep team members apprised of any changes being made as they happen, reflect the real-time world that Twitter and other social networks have gotten us accustomed to.
CEO Aaron Levie (who we profiled as part of our Change Generation series ) says the advent of cloud computing is making it much easier for companies like Box to create enterprise apps that look more like consumer tools. Because the apps are based in the cloud, employees don't need IT approval in order to give them a whirl. Freemium models and low prices mean lower-level managers can give their groups the go-ahead to start using the tools without having to get centralized approval. All of which means companies like Box can design for the people who will actually use the software, rather than the CIOs or purchasing departments who have traditionally made purchasing decisions.
“Traditional enterprise software is all about top-down deployment with . . . little if any focus on: Can the user get the task done that?” Levie tells Fast Company. A lot of Box’s new features “are driven by the consumer Web, and what we’ve learned. But a lot of it is also just driven things that you would expect to see if you could design enterprise software in the way that works best for end-users.”
Expect to see more of these kinds of consumer-app and social features working their way into office software in the months and years to come. And not only due to the cloud. At Apple’s earnings call on Monday, Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook said both iPhones and iPads had penetrated the enterprise space at a “mind-blowing” speed. Of the companies in the Fortune 100, 88% have at least some employees using the iPhone, he said, and 80% use iPads in some form or another.
As those devices proliferate throughout the enterprise--and as companies increasingly start building cloud-based apps for their employees to use on those devices--the wide gulf between what enterprise software looks and feels like and the look and feel of the stuff you use at home will start becoming a thing of the past.