Once upon a time, apps were built by IT people for IT people. The more complex an application was, the wider the grin of the IT implementation and support team.
Apps weren’t ‘beautiful’ and function trumped user experience every time. In fact, most software became the paisley curtains business owners wished they never bought. Think blue screens at airport check-in desks.
Setting our mental Deloreans to 88mph, software in 2015 is now delivered as a service over the internet to billions of users at a time. Apps are the digital fungi that connect us and it’s precisely this unimaginable scale that is so craved by SaaS business vendors.
Marc Benioff, a.k.a. The SaaS Father and CEO of Salesforce.com previously said, in his widely read guest blog post, The Facebook Imperative, ‘In 1996 I had an epiphany…Why is it that all enterprise software can’t be like Amazon.com? (2010)…But it’s no longer Amazon that frames the questions or gives us the answers. In this decade, I’ve become obsessed with a new simple question: “Why isn’t all enterprise software like Facebook?’ And this is not just the lone voice of a visionary, Larry Ellison, former CEO of Oracle, underscores Benioff’s thinking by adding, ‘For the first time, the consumer end of IT is bigger than the enterprise side.’
At the core of these statements sits an idea that has turned SaaS business apps on their head. The idea is also a tacit admittal that consumer apps have become the engines of innovation business apps often seek to mimic.
In reality Facebook’s stratospheric user growth created a curious juxtaposition for SaaS business vendors. By showing what was possible in terms of growth it simultaneously undermined the user experience of their apps. In other words, Benioff’s question was not only correct but also a realisation that the user adoption of Salesforce.com’s CRM app could be threatened if it didn’t enable existing and potential new users to have a Facebook like experience.
Interestingly, whether by accident or design, the blending of a consumer type experience within a business app, is also a common attribute of the SaaS business model.
Some obvious similarities include, try before you buy or in the parlance of SaaS, freemium. Ever tried ringing the support line for a mass consumer product? Same goes for SaaS vendors who have left the runway and scaled. Even the sales models are merging with old methods of selling software practically dead and the internet enabling a zero touch sales process akin to the handheld supermarket scanner. Equally, the video marketing of SaaS business applications is typically driven by clever animated shorts or even more radically half-time super bowl ad-slots. See the Black Eyed Peas celebratory endorsement of the Chatter collaboration platform during super bowl for a full frontal consumer experience. And if that wasn’t enough to create the software equivalent of a sugary water syrup, then SaaS companies might as well face it they’re also addicted to the use of the word ‘love’. Consumer marketers will use this word for anything that shines and it seems SaaS marketers in their quest for a billion users will as well. Now where’s that ‘I love Excel’ t-shirt?
If we follow this yellow brick road to its next juncture then SaaS vendors will have to continue to measure their relevancy in terms of what consumer apps look and feel like. The embedded social network feed in business apps is alive and well, but will business apps transform again to be punctuated with the video streaming capabilities of Meerkat, Periscope or SnapChat. Imagine receiving on the job shadowing through the business versions of Meerkat and Twitch via the highest paid salesperson in the building. Who said sales couldn’t be a spectator sport?
As Snapchat positions itself and its 200 million users as an alternative to Facebook, perhaps the next question will be, not so much as to why isn’t all enterprise software like Facebook, but how enterprise software can credibly absorb more consumer app features to create more ‘stickiness’.
During the transition cycle from desktop to mobile, app user growth increased 10 fold. This had a copper fastening effect on the DIY culture of bringing your app into the workplace. Nothing strikes fear into major SaaS vendors more, than their user base going off script. The challenge has now become how business apps can foster a Snapchat-esque culture of bring your own grin!
by Mark Power, Mark is a Lecturer at the Dublin Institute of Technology