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Your company is facing a software identity crisis — here’s how to fix it

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Marc Boscher
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Marc Boscher

Founder & CEO, UnitoMarc Boscher is the founder and CEO of Unito, a workflow management solution that allows you to build, optimize, and track workflows across tools, teams, and organizations. Marc was the founding team… (show all) Marc Boscher is the founder and CEO of Unito, a workflow management solution that allows you to build, optimize, and track workflows across tools, teams, and organizations. Marc was the founding team member of three other technology startups in the medical and digital signage spaces, leading product and technology, before starting Unito.

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Are you a Mac or a PC? Is there an Android phone or an iPhone in your pocket? Are you reading this article in Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari, or Internet Explorer? When it comes to technology we all pick favorites. Whether motivated by quality, value, brand, or social pressures, we tend to take sides and support them time and time again. 

In recent years, this technology fandom has jumped from personal tools into the business world. The average employee uses at least 10 different software tools. It was inevitable that people would start to get attached.

Workers wear branded t-shirts and plaster their laptops with branded stickers. They recommend their favorite apps to coworkers and friends. And they might even leave a job that doesn’t allow them to use their preferred brands.

Google found that upwards of 50% of buyers feel an emotional connection to the B2B tools and companies that they use — far more than B2C buyers.  

As workers progress from tool user to tool advocate, their tech stack becomes a part of their professional identity. And that is at the root of a growing problem for business leaders. 

[Read: Why mixing optimism with entrepreneurship can be dangerous for startups]

Too much of a good thing

The growth of software fandom corresponds pretty closely to the explosion of the SaaS market. What was a $13.4 billion industry in 2010 is now a $157 billion industry, one that is expected to continue growing rapidly

There are thousands of tools and companies to choose from and businesses are adopting them en masse. The average enterprise used 288 apps in 2019 — a 30% increase from the previous year. 

The intention behind this adoption is to empower teams to self-organize and accelerate decision-making across the enterprise. But few leaders anticipated the new challenges these tools would create. 

As employees break off into tools catered to their role, new software silos are being formed. Their work becomes invisible and key information might be stored entirely out of reach to colleagues and managers. When 451 Research asked managers what task, if automated, would benefit them the most, the number one answer was “Having relevant information surface when your team needs it.” 

So how can business leaders regain what they’ve lost in the maze of SaaS tools without losing the gains made in autonomy, productivity, and velocity?

Don’t trust your instincts

Many leaders react to this state of affairs by trying to regain control over-tooling and forcing everyone in the organization onto the same apps. You pick one project management tool, one chat tool, or one collaboration tool that all employees have to use.

While that might centralize information, it can have significant, usually counterproductive consequences. Restricting an employee’s ability to use the tools they value and advocate for strips away that part of their professional identity. 

This isn’t an overstatement. Consider how you would feel if your boss told you to stop rooting for your favorite football team and start rooting for their rival. People take these things seriously. You risk lowering employee engagement and happiness, both of which can wreak havoc on their productivity.

And there isn’t any guarantee that your restrictions will work. Approximately 48 % of employees use apps that weren’t distributed by their IT department. This statistic doesn’t even reflect the new COVID-19 reality, during which most workers have had the opportunity to build their own routines with their own software. Try taking that away from them on your return to the office.

Therein lies the software identity crisis. The rapid adoption of SaaS tools has created new silos and new challenges for business leaders and employees alike. But if you try to strip away people’s preferred tools, you risk being left with unhappy, unengaged, and unproductive workers.

Building a win-win situation with workflow management

While it might feel like a stalemate, there’s a way for both end-users and business leaders to get what they need. It begins with tool integration. 

When you hire a new employee, they need to be integrated into the company. You work hard to make them part of the social dynamic, to help them build relationships with their coworkers, and generally put them in a position to succeed. 

Tool integration is much the same. By connecting your work tools, you expand the functionality and accessibility of each. As with employees, these tools need to work together to succeed. 

But integration is only a start. Native integrations are often fairly limited and bigger general-purpose integration platforms become just another tool on the list, requiring time and effort to manage. 

To build a true win-win situation, you need to go beyond simple integration and look at your workflows holistically. 

Look at where they jump across tools and teams and where they tend to run off the rails. This is your workflow “map.” With it, you can identify key gaps and bridge them with integration, yes, but also with automation and optimization. Mapping your workflow also allows you to surface invaluable insights and analytics on how your team works. 

While each of these elements — integration, automation, analytics — can be done piecemeal, that can be difficult and time-consuming. To make this a breeze, there’s an emerging category of tool offering end-to-end coverage. We call this workflow management. 

Analyst Stowe Boyd describes workflow management solutions as “technology platforms intended to cross-connect the fragmentary processes within disparate work management tools and enable end-to-end strategic workflows.” A workflow management platform allows you to very simply address both of the core issues at the heart of this software identity crisis.

  • People want to work on the tools they identify with. The workflow management approach encourages people to use their preferred tools and builds systems for information sharing across them. 
  • Leaders need greater visibility into the work of their teams. Through automation, integration, and reporting, key information is always at hand in real-time.

When leaders have visibility and employees are using their preferred tools, productivity and engagement follow naturally. This is a potential boon for your business — highly engaged employees increase company profitability by 21%.

“Bring your own tool” is the future of work

Imagine a reality where updates on key initiatives flow right into your favorite tool so they’re always front and center; where you can lead company-wide initiatives and maintain alignment without every leaving that same tool; and where your entire team gets to work in the apps that are best suited to their jobs (and the ones on their t-shirts). 

Seamless interoperation between previously disparate technologies is the way of the future. In fact, I believe that within the next decade businesses will no longer dictate what software their employees use to get the job done. New hires will bring their tech stack with them when they join a company, and you will have to find ways to integrate them into your established workflows. 

While you might balk at this idea, the potential benefits are enormous. No more internal tooling debates. No lengthy tool training or onboarding. No need to go through complex IT purchasing processes. 

You’re left with happy employees doing their best work in their preferred tools. 

Published August 5, 2020 — 08:00 UTC