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This article was published on September 6, 2014

Why complexity is enterprise’s biggest debt

Why complexity is enterprise’s biggest debt
Jean-Pierre Pequito
Story by

Jean-Pierre Pequito

JP Pequito is the Product Designer at Cupenya. JP Pequito is the Product Designer at Cupenya.

Jean-­Pierre Pequito is a product designer at Cupenya.

As internet pioneer-­turned-­VC Marc Andreessen famously pointed out, “software is eating the world,” and it is becoming inevitable that enterprises today are deeply interconnected with software.

During the last decade enterprise IT has been satisfying more requirements to improve organizational performance. It is dealing with larger volumes of data to support the functions of a complex organization.

But complexity is a problem. Complexity is invisible and presents itself everywhere across organizations, and it gets worse and worse as companies grow. We have been adding more layers of management and sophisticated processes that are stretching the distance between strategy and execution.

In the past years consumer software has shifted towards simplicity. However, large organizations are dependently integrated with legacy systems built a decade ago for a different generation of users. Enterprise IT has been sustaining innovation by incrementally adding functionality without reducing complexity.

This leads them to make poor decisions based on a distorted reality of what is happening inside their companies.

Simplicity doesn’t mean reducing functionality

“Simplicity beats business complexity” emphasized Bill McDermott, CEO at SAP, recently at its annual SapphireNow conference.

Simplicity doesn’t mean reducing functionality. It means working on how easy and intuitively we run and consume software. Especially in today’s world when the need of gathering and processing business data keeps increasing.

SAP also announced free licensing for SAP Fiori, a solution to enhance its outdated user experience across its most spread product lines. During its conference at Orlando, McDermott spent almost his entire keynote talking about the importance of the simplification of business software.

Absorbed in clunky and dysfunctional interfaces, companies are forced to spend more in employee training and IT consulting services. At the same time, implementation of the systems can take months or even years. This makes the adoption of enterprise software very restricted.

Startups can cut so much on adoption speed that they will take over the enterprise market. This is what Joe Lonsdale, founder of Palantir and Addepar, called “Smart Enterprise Wave.”

Some startups managed to bring simplicity by creating an “enterprise app market.” Some examples include Box, Yammer and Salesforce. They successfully extended their primary consumer offerings or introduced modernized applications for collaboration and productivity.

But in the upcoming years a more disruptive innovation is going to happen to critical business functions that are still managed by dinosaurs.

How startups are accelerating enterprise change

Enterprise software has been typically designed to fit sales and technical requirements rather than the end user needs. Even worse, introducing any significant change to enterprises is extremely hard. Although legacy vendors are trying to catch up on user experience, it is happening at a very slow and costly pace. This leaves room for new startups to enter the race.

Reducing complexity is still today’s challenge for any enterprise software. Product designers have simplicity in their backbone when crafting the modern enterprise interface.

This means weighing more product purpose than functionality, removing the amount of UI elements and minimizing steps in the flow.

At the same time, startups are presenting new ways to visualize, interact and consume business data. We are moving from presenting just strategic charts for the management layer to providing actionable insights across the whole organization. As business data becomes more accessible, organizations can perform better.

Simplification is not only about updating ugly interfaces and rethinking product behavior; it’s also finding new ways of distributing products.

The democratization of software discovery is a result of lowering adoption and integration barriers. A whole new segment of enterprise users are adopting software without the complex implementation cycles or compliance approvals from IT departments.

The biggest disruption, however, will come from startups aiming to compete against the big vendors like Oracle, SAP and IBM. In other words, startups that can cut through complexity to the engines behind the interface. This will allow them to solve “hard problems” much easier with cutting edge technology.

Disruptive innovation implies gaining larger amounts of data across the organizations in centralized cloud-­based infrastructures and providing applications that present useful and real insights.

This is why technology and design innovation is not just about reducing complexity, but enabling more people within large organizations to have access to quick, intuitive and meaningful insights.

Featured image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images

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