Welcome to episode 113 of The Digital Life, a show about our adventures in the world of design and technology. I’m your host Jon Follett, and with me today is special guest Suzie Livingston, a senior product manager for IBM’s enterprise social software platform. Suzie, welcome to the show.
Thanks for having me, Jon. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Yeah, I’m so glad you could join us. This week, we’re going to chat a little bit about the consumerization of enterprise software and the bring your own device trend, which is so prevalent today. This is a really unique time for the enterprise as Marc Andreessen put it, “software is eating the world,” and that’s nowhere else as true as it in the enterprise and day-to-day work of the knowledge worker, so there are a ton of interesting themes: user experience, security, productivity, designing for mobile first, etc., but let’s dig in first with something that I think, Suzie, really dovetails well with your expertise, and I’d like to get your opinion on what factors product managers need to keep in mind as they’re considering the ongoing consumerization of enterprise software.
Ah, well, that’s a great one to start off with. Jon, let me ask you a quick question. Do you use your mobile device to get your work done?
All the time. As much as possible.
Oh, good. Is it your own mobile device, I presume?
It actually belongs to Involution, and I use it for a million phone calls, checking of email, you name it … logging into base camp. There’s an endless array of apps that I use to try to stay productive, especially when I’m on the road.
Yeah, yep. Do you carry around two?
I have not been in that position where I needed to carry two phones, but I’ve definitely gone to conferences with a phone and a tablet or a phone and a laptop or a phone and a phablet, right, those really awkward-sized things that don’t quite fit into a jacket pocket.
Oh, yes, yes. A pain. You can imagine how fun it is for people to carry around multiple devices, especially when one of them has been dictated down to them. There’s no straight answer when it comes to does a company go with BYOD or not. My company has. We’ve adopted this policy. It’s been working out great for me. I love using my own device at work. There are some who prefer to have a company-provided device, but when it comes to product management in this space, we end up having to think about all of it. The types of companies who will support a BYOD policy, and the types of companies who won’t. It does actually affect some of the ways in which we’ll go about supporting devices, how we’re going to design for devices, what we’re going to put on those devices, and what people are experiencing with them. I think one way to kind of start with this question is to think about, well why are companies adopting BYOD policies, and why are they not.
I think for companies who are adopting them, they want … there’s this notion that if you are an employee of a company, and you’re using your own device that you’re going to be more productive. It seems to make logical sense. You have your own device that you are an expert at using. You know how to use it. You don’t have to learn something different. You’re going to keep that device up-to-date with new software because it’s also your personal device, so maybe you want the latest security patches on your own device. You’re going to be the expert at using it. You’re going to use it for your pleasure as well as for your work, so maybe we’ll get more time out of you if you’re using your own personal device. I think, actually, Forrester had done some study last year where they anticipated about 45-60 minutes per week was the employee time savings gained from using your own device anytime, anywhere. There are certainly some notion that you could be a more productive employee if you’re using your own device.
I think there’s also a notion that you might be more satisfied if you’re using your own device, that you don’t have to carry around that second tool that you also have to make sure you have your battery on. When there’s one plug available, and both of your devices are drained, which one’s the first one you’re going to run to charge? Your work one or your personal one? I think there’s a little bit of that notion that employees’ satisfaction is part of the equation. I think the other one that isn’t quite as clear is there really cost savings here? Is bringing your own device, are you actually going to save money? It seems like you’re going to if you have your employees paying for their own devices, but in the end, does that really equate?
I think there’s certainly some reasons why companies are going for it, but then there are some reasons why they’re not, and I’ve seen this with some of our own customers. There’s caution around BYOD. There’s security issues that companies are worried about, and there are certainly solutions out there to help mitigate that with mobile device management software and others, but there’s also this notion of well where does the line get drawn between your personal data and your company data. If I am taking this call here, and I’m not at my company’s campus. I’m somewhere else. Does my company know that? Can they use that information against me? I think that’s where some companies are hesitant. When it comes to being a product manager in this space, then we basically have to deal with the idea that we’re going to have some customers who have their own BYOD policies which means there’s going to be a plethora of devices.
We may not be able to dictate what kinds of devices people are going to be using. They’re going to pick whatever one they prefer. We’re also going to have to support all sorts of configurations of those devices, so you want to go and make some modifications to your own personal device. Well, we may act as software providers with some of the data that’s on your device, and so as a result, we may not … we’ll need to be able to support everything that you’ve done to that device, but then on as a product manager in this space, we also have the other side of the spectrum, where there may be a more finite set of devices that a company wants to support, so we, too, need to be aware of that and make sure that our software works well in those situations, even if they’ve chosen to go the path where they’re providing their own devices, so we kind of have to plan for all of it and prioritize what’s the most important set for us.
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. From an enterprise software vendor standpoint, how do you go about prioritizing that and sort of responding to this ongoing trend in the changing work environment where, as you noted, there’s a possibility that you could have any device on your software now, or you could have sort of a limited number but still a lot more than enterprise software has had to support in the past. How do you address that issue?
I think part of it comes down to having the processes in place to help us be more effective at supporting multiple devices, and what I mean by that is being faster, being able to create either apps or responsive web experience on the phone or on the device that gives people what they need wherever they are, whatever type of device they’re using, but get it out there as quickly as possible. For example, we now … we have to deal with constant changes in the operating systems of these devices. We have to deal with constantly responding to changes in the ways that these devices, the software works, so if we have new features that are brought out to a mobile operating system, we may want to take advantage of those features in our applications, and so then we need to get into a faster cadence of getting our apps updated in their respective app stores or getting our web or responsive experience on the web, be able to reflect some of those capabilities.
We have to do this, but at the same time, there’s huge overhead. We still have to test and make sure that the quality is there for our software. One of the strategies that we tend to use for prioritization is just getting a good, solid sense of who our customers are, what’s their target, what kinds of devices are they using now? What are they targeting to use in the future, and helping use that to help guide our decisions? Because we simply can’t support every device under the sun and new devices are coming out on a regular basis, and new software for those devices are coming out on a regular basis, so we do have to understand where our market’s going and be able to respond to them effectively.
Yeah, for a second there, I had a picture in my mind of needing to figure out the software would work with the Apple Watch, right? I know that’s by no means an enterprise-level device that would be expected in this BYOD era, but-
Why not? Why not? Yeah. We are seeing more people … as you mentioned in my intro, I’m a product manager for our enterprise social platform, and those who are using social technology at work, if they’re using devices that integrate with their tablets or their mobile devices, they expect that to integrate into their tools as well, just as you would expect from your consumer-side tools. Yeah. The landscape’s constantly changing and growing. Of course, we look at is this a trend. Is this going to continue on this trend? Is this going to affect our user populations, and that does impact our decisions as to whether or not we’re going to support certain new devices, but I can certainly see that that’s an area of … everybody’s got their eyes on at the moment.
Sure. Do you see a time when enterprise software is going to need to be mobile-first in its user experience strategy? Is that moment already here? Is it coming soon? What do you think?
Yeah, for us, it definitely is here. We have been mobile-first in our design of our experience for quite some time now. I think that it’s extremely positive for us, but it also comes with … there’s no magic bullet. There also comes with it some caveats that we have to be aware of and be concerned with. I think what mobile-first has brought us in terms of our design is it’s taught us to be really lean. Focus on what you’re … as a product manager, what is your product doing well? What is it meant to do? What do you want your users’ experience to be about? Figure that one thing out. We have a tendency, and you may have seen this with other enterprise tools and even some consumer tools to try to do everything imaginable, and you can’t do everything really, really well. What mobile has made us do is say, “what is that core use case you’re going after? Nail it.”
Once you’ve nailed it, maybe at that point, you want to introduce additions to that experience that will help fulfill a separate use case or a growth of that original use case. That’s way different thinking from traditional enterprise software where we’ve got lists of thousands of features that our customers have been asking for. We need to implement as many of them as we can. Shove as much in as we can, and then they’ll be happy. In this case, their expectations are changing too. They want an elegant experience that gets them what they need, so mobile-first has definitely helped us to focus on being more lean. On the flip-side, it presents a number of constraints when you’re designing.
You can’t really think about the full 25 set of use cases that you might want to accomplish. You really do need to think in a constrained way, and of course that means you don’t get to wait on solving those problems that creep up at the beginning. You need to solve them now. If you don’t know what’s the next step your user’s supposed to take in this work flow of maybe I want to type in a message and then I also need to get approval on this content. How am I going to do that within the scope of this mobile application? If you don’t know what that next step is, you can’t move forward. I think that those constraints make it harder for us at the beginning, make it more challenging, but if we answer those questions up-front and we gain agreement and consensus from those who are working with us on building those products that this is the right direction for it, it makes a much stronger base to start from.
I think mobile-first has helped us in terms of our product development strategy, but it also has helped us keep our products focused and, in turn, provide a better experience for those who are using them.
Yeah, that sounds right. I want to shift gears a little bit because we’ve talked about enterprise user experience and software from the perspective of systems and software that are taking on these consumerization issues and the BYOD issues, but there are some … we’ve seen in the marketplace, some really successful up-starts that sort of start with a blank slate, right, like Trello or Box or Slack where they’re really enterprise software with a consumer perspective from the very beginning. I know that’s sort of a blanket statement, so forgive me for missing some of the nuance there, but is that where enterprise software needs to go? Starting with that core idea or that lean UX mobile-focused idea at the beginning and then sort of building on that rather than starting from sort of the grander scheme that was often where enterprise software began?
Yeah, so you’re going to not love my answer, because it’s right in the middle. I do think that there’s certainly a desire to keep applications focused on a use case, something that user’s going to gain benefit from and they’re going to be better off using your tool for. I think tools that you see emerging now, some that you’ve mentioned, many that have emerged over the last 10 years, what they’re teaching all of us in enterprise social technologies is it’s okay to do one thing and do it really well, whereas I think a lot of us on the enterprise vendor side have said, “Well, we can’t just do one thing. We’ve got to do everything.” That has really fractured our user experiences, made our challenging for people to pick up and understand how to gain benefit from.
Sure, they’re powerful, but only to those who really know how to use them. What I love about the trend that’s happening with mobile apps now and with tools that are focused on business productivity is, is they’re are saying it’s okay to do that one thing, do it well, and if we can do that well, we can grow. I love the return to how people really work. We really work by talking to each other. We really work by connecting and collaborating. That’s how work really gets done. Yes, there’s a lot of business process that’s involved. Yes, there’s a lot of desire to make sure that we’ve hit certain milestones. Yes, there’s approvals that still need to happen, and the business still needs to run. I think that that can still happen even though you are perhaps providing a leader more focused experience.
What I think this makes us need to focus in on is not, “Well, I need to make an app for this. I need to make an app for that. I need to make an app for this,” but I have this infrastructure. I have as an enterprise vendor, I have all of the capabilities that I need to give to you Mr. End-user, Miss End-user, what you need to be successful in your business and in your job. What’s getting in the way of you using that? If it means that there’s a focus on a specific process that I know you’re involved in and I can make my software easier for you to pick up and understand, and just provide you that experience, I don’t need to give you all of the underlying features. Just give you the things that you need to do. I think there is a desire for that by enterprise users, and certainly enterprise buyers want to buy the full platform.
There’s this … where we can do better and where we are working to provide a better experience is take all of that … the needs of the enterprise, the security, the manageability, and then provide that niched experience to the users based on what they are looking to accomplish. I think that will help go a long way to enterprise adoption of technologies that are, let’s say, deemed for use by the corporation, but will also make their users happy because they are able to accomplish the goals that they’re looking for. Frankly, provide a fun experience while doing it so that the culture is still a part of the tools that you use. It isn’t a separate part of your experience day-to-day.
Right. Last question of the day, here. How are you seeing companies manage this migration from enterprise software sort of as it was to this new consumerized paradigm? What are the things that you’re seeing sort of in the field as companies take this on?
Yeah, I think almost all the companies that I’ve worked with have gone through some phases when they’re about to move to BYOD. Things like typically they start by doing some planning, how are they going to introduce this trend? What kind of devices do they expect? What kinds of software are they going to provide for their employees? Are they going to provide their own app catalog like we do? Are they going to use a mobile device management software? They go through a phase of planning. They go through a phase of communicating what’s the results of those plans, and then they go into support. They really need to support their employees. They can’t go to BYOD and then say, “you having trouble using those apps for work? Sorry, can’t help you out.” They have to be willing to invest in providing support so that their people have enough confidence in using those tools at work and be able to be effective on them.
I think most of them have gone through this planning phase, communications phase, and then support phase where they see the need to have ongoing modifications of their policies with regards to new devices that are coming out and new software that’s coming out and just to whether they’re going to support those in their environments or not.
Suzie, thanks so much for talking about enterprise software and BYOD movement with us today. I appreciate it.
My pleasure, Jon, and hopefully you will always have power at hand when you’re using your device for work.
Yes. Yeah. May it be so. Listeners, remember that while you’re listening to the show, you can follow along with the things that we’re mentioning here in real time. Just head over to thedigitalife.com, that’s just one L in The Digital Life, and go to the page for this episode. We’ve included links to pretty much everything mentioned by everybody, so it’s a rich information resource to take advantage of while you’re listening or afterward if you’re trying to remember something that you liked. If you want to follow us outside of the show, you can follow me on Twitter, @jonfollett. That’s J-O-N F-O-L-L-E-T-T. Of course, the whole show is brought to you by Involution Studios, which you can check out at goinvo.com. That’s G-O-I-N-V-O.com. Suzie, how can listeners get in touch with you?
Great question. I’d love for you to get in touch with me on Twitter. My Twitter handle is Suzie S-U-Z-I-E Livingston L-I-V-I-N-G-S-T-O-N.
Terrific. That’s it for episode 113 of The Digital Life. I’m Jon Follett, and we’ll see you next time.