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Cloud Talk

Andre Yee

What Enterprise Applications Can Learn From Facebook

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A few weeks ago, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff opined on Techcrunch about what he called "The Facebook Imperative" - the simple idea that enterprise applications should be more like Facebook. Here's a quote -

"In this decade, I've become obsessed with a new simple question: "Why isn't all enterprise software like Facebook?" As we were focused on bringing enterprise computing into the modern age, Facebook redefined the values of consumer computing and helped ignite the social phenomenon."

Benioff is advocating that a comparable social revolution is needed for business applications and Salesforce's Chatter product is positioned to bring it about. As you can imagine, it's brought on a myriad of responses - both for and against his proposed idea.

Despite his unabashed Facebook fanboy status, I think Benioff is absolutely right. In fact, I don't think he doesn't go far enough. Enterprise application vendors can learn a whole lot from Facebook, Twitter and other social media applications, starting with the social component but by no means ending there.

Here are 4 lessons enterprise applications can "learn" from Facebook -

1. Engaging User Experience Wins Everyday, Twice on Sunday

Most business applications do not have an engaging user experience (UX) because business software is sold on the basis of function/features, not experience. So most enterprise applications, even SaaS applications are boring, uninspiring and difficult to use. Let's face it, first generation SaaS applications are all about low touch, speedy deployments and not about engaging the user. Think about Facebook, Twitter and even Google - this new generation of social web apps are all about a simple, clean, engaging experience.

Compared to earlier generation of SaaS applications, they combine two distinctive attributes - simplicity and interactivity. To be fair this wasn't possible 5+ years ago when the primary use of static HTML created stifling thin client interfaces....but a lot has changed since then. Today's cloud based applications can leverage rich client technologies like HTML5 and combine it with a scalable, elastic computing capacity. Facebook shows what can be done by setting the bar for interactivity in cloud based UXs.

2. True Mobile Footprint

The great thing about Facebook and Twitter is that it's completely usable on a mobile device. Using either application on a mobile phone isn't significantly different from using it on a notebook or deskop. It's a design philosophy that acknowledges that the world has changed significantly - mobility isn't just here to stay, it's the present an the future of computing. Building enterprise applications that truly enable mobile access and use is vital. This means more than just making reports or certain peripheral features available on the iPhone, it actually means designing key features to be usable on mobile devices. Enterprise applications need to have a "made for mobile footprint"

3. Enable User Driven Content

Facebook is about user driven content, not product driven capabilities. Just ask yourself - what's the value of Facebook? It's the news feeds from your friends, updated statuses, shared photos and comments. In other words, it's not about Facebook capabilities. The most interesting, engaging part about using Facebook is the rich content that users supply. That's a fundamental switch in perspective that business application developers don't get. Next generation business applications cannot just be about functionality, it also needs to find ways to enable user contributed content.

4. The Power of Open Social Connections.

This is the part Benioff focused on and rightly so. By leveraging the power of social in the realm of business applications, you can multiply productivity and encourage creativity. For most companies, the ability to share information and collaborate in a sustained fashion is a major challenge. Also, don't just think employees here but also partners, customers and prospects. The brave new, social media infuse world we live in rewards transparency and authenticity - bringing the ability to collaborate across these different parties of interests isn't just a "nice to have", it's a necessity. Forward thinking enterprise application developers will find a way to leverage social connections for their applications and allowing their users to extend collaboration beyond the walls of the enterprise.


OK - you've heard my thoughts on this - what do you think?


6 Comments

The poor state of corporate software now reminds me of the state back in the mid 1980's when GUI's started to emerge.

Martin - I agree... I think there's going to be a quiet revolution of cloud app providers who will "get it" and understand that user experience is vital. 1st gen SaaS is stifling and difficult to use - there's no reason to let that continue.

All excellent lessons but I'd add one more word -- relevance -- to simplicity and interactivity under engagement. With early cubeless customers, we learned that you can deliver social media that's simple for a company's employees, partners, and customers to use. You can also make it highly interactive. If that simplicity and interactivity, however, comes to be viewed as an unproductive use of peoples' time, interest and use will disappear. Relevance is ultimately the key to lasting, ongoing engagement.

Business should adopt the use of social platforms. The integration of 2 way communication tools such as Twitter and Facebook are allowing for a faster move towards VRM (virtual relationship management). The next evolution in CRM where business can utilise things like salesforce chatter to manage comsumer relationships effectively and better thatn competitors.

Tony - you're right. Relevance is an important component to leveraging social technologies in the enterprise environment.

Contextual relevance and timeliness is what makes information useful - otherwise you're just wasting time and resources

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"the many as a by product of the individual"; "process as content"; reduce management; challenge not change; I could go on but these are a few of my favourite things. Bye bye KM hello KA (knowledge activity/ate/)

Andre Yee blogs about cloud computing, SaaS, Web 2.0 and other emerging technologies that matter to businesses.

Andre Yee

Andre Yee is an entrepreneur and technologist with nearly 20 years of experience in the business of technology.

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