Last week I had the pleasure to participate in a brainstorming session on Netweaver UI futures. I can’t blog the details here, but I’d urge the internal SAP folks to check out the Wiki in this area, lots of cool stuff cooking.  A highlight for me was hearing how design led thinking is gradually but deeply permeating SAP. Listening to developers talk about their experiences at customer sites where they really dug deep into user personas, roles, hats and so on was exactly what I was hoping to hear. I’m convinced that deep, open and direct dialogue between developers and the people using the software is absolutely vital. (eek cluetrain alert)

The purpose of this post though isn’t to talk about design, but about terminology.

Having worked with payroll and compliance related software for the past decade or more, I understand how hard it is to build and maintain enterprise applications. I have written a lot here about the difference between enterprise applications and consumer applications. I’ve been critical of those who label enterprise software overly complex without understanding what the software actually does. I’ve also been critical of using the enterprise label as an excuse for forcing unnecessary complexity on the people that use the software.

I dislike, no actually, I hate the term business user.

Why talk about the business user?

1. It surely irks folks working in the public sector. They are not businesses.

2. I don’t like the implication that business users are somehow different to “other” users, and that people become suddenly different when dealing with the “serious business stuff” Do I change personality when I log on to a “business suite”?


(from wikipedia)


I’m the same person



and here. In a business suit talking about business suites.(Sartorial commentary welcome)


Of course, other than that my “consumer” persona would like to spend more on high end bicycle components than my “enterprise” persona (and spouse) would allow….

If as a consumer I’m able to log onto eBay and find the said expensive component, buy it easily and get it delivered with a minimum of fuss, then why would I not expect the same simplicity in the office? Just because I’m in the office doesn’t mean that I now should have to tolerate unnecessary complexity. 

Labelling things enterprise, business or even professional enables a defence of complexity that shouldn’t be tolerated without a challenge.

People log on to consumer tools because they want to, but often they log on to enterprise applications because they have to. I don’t think this should be an excuse to expose them to any more complexity than absolutely necessary. How products are named impacts this perception. Why would anyone want to click onto something called workspace?  This is a Business Application. It does serious stuff. You need to pay attention. Sit up straight. Behave.

I’m not sure that this division can be relied on for ever, either. People are using more and more “consumer” applications in their daily work. The nature of work is changing, just look at  “bursty v Busyness”  The palette of tools to support burstiness is growing ever richer, and I believe there is tremendous value in bringing these concepts into the heart of enterprise applications.

I blogged the other day about fun being a user requirement, and I’m convinced we need a whole lot more of it in enterprise application thinking. Consumer applications are raising the simplicity and fun bar very rapidly, and we enterprisey types had better get used to it. Design business applications with the assumption that the people using the application have a choice about which application to use, and that the screens and processes that you design directly impact their job satisfaction.  

Hugh of Gapingvoid gives us something to ponder on.

I firmly believe that the line that separates social media and ERP is going to start getting VERY blurry, and really soon. I can see a not-to-distant future where even the larger ERP solutions are built around social software, not the other way around. And I can see that day arriving in under five years. We live in interesting times.

James Governor made a similar point a few weeks ago, when discussing IBM  “industrial strength” and on the

false distinction between consumer and enterprise.

RedMonk has long called for IBM to abandon the somewhat false distinction between “consumer” and “enterprise”. What’s the main difference? Who pays the bill at the end of the month.

Every day I meet people at SAP that think complexity sucks. I also meet people who wear it on their chests like a medal. 

Creating barriers to entry through complexity is not a viable strategy. Creating competitive advantage through simplicity and fun is. Widgets, mashups, tagging, community and so on are not just cute. They are fundamental to the future of enterprise applications. It isn’t just the technology, it is the mindset. 


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