Corporate computing - you really want me to use THAT?!?!

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Ian Gotts

We all spend a significant amount of our lives at work. In the last 15 years, for blue collar workers, most of that time has been spent in front of a computer. In the last 5 years there has been a huge shift. Now the computer experience we have at home is better than at work. Before then, the only computer experience was the one at work. I think the shift is neatly summed up by this graphic.

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)

This is a significant shift and one of the manifestations is BYOD (bring your own device) which means employees get to choose the computer/ laptop / tablet and phone rather than being issued a company one.

"It is clear that companies are supporting BYOD in large numbers as it gives employees the choice to use the devices that make them most productive," said Chris Hazelton, Research Director for Mobile and Wireless at 451 Research.

This sounds like a great idea, but the evidence is that it is the more senior, and therefore more highly paid employees who are buying their own stuff (toys) and bringing it to work because they can afford them. The good news is that this is forcing companies to look at the devices that employees want and changing their policies. This is evident in the number of iPads being purchased corporately. Just recently Barclays purchased 8,000 iPads for deployment internally.

And now people are talking about BYOA (bring your own application). That is where employees choose which applications they want to use. But whilst the BYOD is a headache for the IT Support team, it is achievable. BYOA is way more difficult as it destroys any concept of a corporate IT strategy and application architecture. For core systems in the company it is unrealistic.

The Stealth Cloud

But it is happening in some areas of the business. We’ve all heard about the Cloud, Private Cloud and Government Cloud. But there is also the Stealth Cloud. (It is something that I have talked about in my blog for a while: see here) The stealth cloud is essentially BYOA but under the radar. The stealth cloud has enabled employees to use their own web based applications for salesforce management, project management, social media inside and outside the organization and analytics.

You want me to use that!?!

But one area where BOYA can’t be used – and the subject of my rant today – is for internal systems such as Procurement, Finance, and HR (expenses, payroll, recruitment).

For a variety of reasons – cost, best of breed, legacy – the internal systems that we are forced to use are designed and built by different software vendors and are rarely well integrated. So they all look and behave differently. The other issue is that we use the systems relatively infrequently. I only use the expenses system once a month. I probably don’t look at the payroll and benefit system more than a few times per year. Depending on my role, I wouldn’t be using the recruitment or procurements systems regularly. You get the picture.

So every system’s user interface is different. Every system has a different login. I don’t use the systems very often. And every minute I spend trying to navigate around the system is wasted company money. And making me more and more frustrated.

Poor usability of legacy corporate systems leads to user frustration

To add insult to injury, none of the systems are as elegant and intuitive as the web-based apps I use in my personal life.

So you’d think there would be a strong business case or ROI (Return On Investment) for providing employees with a simpler, easier and beautiful interface.

  • Less time wasted fighting internal systems saves money: fact.
  • Happier employees are more productive: fact

But many organisations have devoted their limited IT resources to their external or customer facing systems. In fact the recent figure I heard was that 83% of IT budgets are spent simply "keeping the lights on" i.e. keeping the existing applications operating. So that leaves only 17% for improvements and innovation.

Shared services focus on (internal) customer experience

Increasingly organisations are creating shared services operations where teams for procurement, finance and HR are centrally located. The more forward thinking Shared Services Directors are starting to focus away from pure cost savings of the centralised operation and onto internal customer experience. Which means that they are trying to provide a better user experience when dealing with internal systems, and there are 3 ways that companies are approaching it:

  1. Rip out all the systems and replace with one integrated system from SAP or Oracle. This is a major investment, but the ROI is the reduced cost of maintaining multiple systems and their integration and the cost of multiple licenses. In addition there are the staff productivity gains.
  2. Keep the existing systems but put a layer between the user and the systems. Using a BPM automation platform, such as TIBCO or others, to build a consistent set of screens and forms with which the user interacts and behind the BPM platform deal with the disparate applications.
  3. Develop a series of process maps using a product like Nimbus, which will guide the users through the different scenarios such as raise a PO for a capital item or approve expense claim or change pension contribution. This process layer or "Intelligent Operations Manual" will also have links to the correct screen in the existing system and to related documents and even short training video clips.

Now it could be argued that even with options 1, and 2 the implementation of an Intelligent Operation Manual alongside the systems would have huge benefits.

Real results : BAE Systems

Done well the results are compelling, as BAE Systems has discovered. This short video describes their approach and the benefits that the end users have received – told in their own words not wrapped up in marketing technobabble.

No matter what approach is chosen it would be great if IT departments focused on shielding us from the ugly complexity of the systems behind the scenes. They get paid to get angry and frustrated by IT systems. That is part of the challenge of being and IT professional.

For the rest of us, we just want to get on and do our jobs.