Cloud adoption in the enterprise and beyond – a rebel’s perspective

I had the pleasure of reading an article by Matt Asay entitled: IT’s Losing Battle Against Cloud Adoption last week. I thought I’d give my perspective as a proud member of that disruptive and subversive cohort that continually ignored IT’s missives. Whether this was about rejecting their demands to use a dumbed down ‘feature’ phone or the idle threat that I would not be supported in future. I happily ignored their warnings and used my own device and even my own software – because it allowed me to work at a velocity the organisation needed, not what it was currently capable of.

This is a topic near and dear to my heart. I was one of the first adopters of Salesforce.com in Europe and I was competing against a regional development arm that thought they knew our requirements (without consulting us), and pledged to have something in six months. With our CEO’s support, I was on Salesforce in a few days and had the system live shortly thereafter. We configured it in realtime based on feedback from our sales teams and had a solution that effectively addressed more of our needs than the upcoming release our development team was promising.

Not necessarily easier

A caveat: Having a SaaS cloud application makes it operationally convenient to access, but not necessarily easier to use. One could argue that many legacy software providers claiming the cloud moniker or offering hybrid-’cloud’ solutions today are simply providing remotely hosted software. Although the majority of these solutions are easier to use than their legacy counterparts, most still have interfaces that are lacking.

Modern and successful SaaS vendors have succeeded by taking clues and best practices from their consumer oriented SaaS peers with regards to usability and user experience.

A key strength of this new wave of business software is that it delivers a beautiful user experience. It is designed to be intuitive, in the same way that using Facebook or Twitter or your iPhone is. This exceptional ease of use does have a cost though: size. There is a lot of work that goes into making something look easy and intuitive. You can’t easily take the power and sophistication of a product like salesforce.com and provide it on a customers private infrastructure. It’s possible, but more suited to extremely large, and wealthy, corporate clients.

A virtuous circle

User experience is not only a strategic differentiator for vendors but also the user’s organisation: intuitive software facilitates increased adoption and engagement which drives productivity – creating a virtuous circle.

The concept of a sophisticated or power user is fundamentally flawed – creative and design directors know this. A power user isn’t someone that understands a terrible UI, it is someone that consumes features above and beyond the top 10% of features most people use.

Most studies have shown time and again that the majority of users consume a fraction of all the features available to them. The challenge then is not to eliminate the other 90%, but rather to prominently and elegantly expose that 10%. If a prospective customer looks at your software and just ‘gets it’, you’ve succeeded.

Modern SaaS based software is designed to be used immediately by the user to address a business need. The notion of extortionately high installation, support and configuration costs are also a legacy of enterprise software deployments. These are costs that many, if not most, SaaS providers have either dramatically reduced or in some cases eliminated.

The IT department doesn’t go away, but it does have a new role which is managing and facilitating access to these modern SaaS services in a secure manner.

Which brings us to an oft overlooked segment: Small business. These are the folks that don’t have an IT department. That function is just one of the many hats that has to be worn over the course of their day. They don’t have an ounce of time to attend anything that doesn’t materially improve their productivity let alone the funds to pay for premium services to understand the basic functionality of a product.

Big or small, take Clio for a spin – we’d love to hear your feedback.

Nagib Tharani is the director of International Expansion for Clio, a cloud based practice management system for lawyers. He does not have a motorcycle or a beard. Follow him on Twitter at @nagibtharani.

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