7 (Practical) Technologies That Could Make Enterprise Software More Exciting

Illustration of differences between adding and enhancing enterprise technology with social media.Lots of people seem to be complaining, but Umair at BubbleGeneration points out no one’s really suggesting any improvements. There are plenty of sexy technologies we could try to throw into enterprise, but it would be a bit like adding a bikini to a business suit. But there are improvements that could be made to enterprise software that will help it do what it’s supposed to do–not be sexy, as Michael Krigsman points out, but to enable core business processes: gaining higher efficiency and reducing costs. In other words, making more money.

#1 – Optical Character Recognition

It’s almost 2008, and we still don’t have a paperless office. Company employees work easily in both mediums, paper and digital. But while moving data from digital->paper is a print job away, moving data from paper->digital can still be pretty tedious. And worse, it doesn’t have to be. OCR technology, computers recognizing the words on a printed page as words on a printed page, has advanced tremendously. While handwriting can still be a difficulty, how much time could be saved if every faxed, scanned, and e-mailed image of a document was transformed into a PDF file with OCR? Cut it, paste it, edit it, enlarge it, do whatever you want with it in less time than it takes to re-type it.

#2 – Document Collaboration

How many users of Microsoft Word 2007 are there in the enterprise world? How many of them are still treating it like it’s Word ‘97? That is a mistake. And, if a company’s CIO is smart enough to not get locked solely into Microsoft software for document handling, they have a variety of excellent online tools that could offer any office team huge productivity increases. Not everyone needs the full feature set of Microsoft Word. Google Docs, via the enterprise version of Google Apps, offers two huge benefits: easier near-realtime collaboration, and online access. And don’t forget 37 signals, who have built an entire business around collaboration. Basecamp isn’t intended for enterprise company-wide installations, but every business has key teams that could communicate better and get more done by using this software.

#3 – Enhanced E-mail

I’d be willing to bet that compared to the availability of alternatives, Microsoft Outlook is the single worst piece of software in any enterprise environment. Mozilla Thunderbird is faster, more secure, has better search, has tagging as well as folders, and has a variety of extensions(read: free upgrades) available. Thunderbird itself is not only free, but has a dedicated community of developers constantly improving the application, as opposed to a product group at Microsoft whose releases are tied to the upgrade schedule of every other flagship Microsoft product. The one repeated complaint I have heard of Thunderbird compared to Outlook… is that it doesn’t have an integrated calendar… However, there is an extension to fix this truly horrific omission.

If you must remain tied to Outlook, Xobni is a startup/software plug-in, currently in private beta, that adds tremendously powerful analytics and organization features. Smart CIOs will keep an eye on them.

#4 – Wikis

Ignore the name. A funny name is no excuse for ignoring things that can help your business. If you don’t know what a wiki is, see CommonCraft’s 4 minute video, Wikis in Plain English. An intranet wiki can be an invaluable resource for creating a company knowledge base, at a minimum of effort. You will never know as much about your business as all of your employees combined will. At a bare minimum, create wikis with a limited scope of purpose, like Meeting Agendas/Notes, Sales Tips, or Thoughts on (Name of Recently Installed Software). The last one alone could save hundreds of phone calls to your IT support department.

#5 – Syndication Feeds(Atom & RSS)

CommonCraft again has an excellent video explaining this. Instead of employees needing to check ten different locations on the intranet for news/updates, they need only check one, which will tell them if any of the intranet locations they’ve subscribed to has updated, and what that update is.

#6 – Virtualization

Chances are, the average enterprise network has a lot of waste in it. Businesses have learned to share data over the network, it’s time for them to learn how to share the computer resources themselves. I’d bet that resource usage in an enterprise environment follows an inverse Pareto Principle, 80% of the users requiring only 20% of the resources available. That’s on a network of relatively modern machines, of course. If your employees are trying to run current software on a 90’s machine, they need every bit of RAM they can get and then some. Virtualization would let enterprise networks take computing resources from people that don’t need them(with an appropriate buffer zone for unexpected higher use) and give them to the people that do, at a fraction of the cost of giving a small group of users ridiculously high-end machines.

#7 – Analytics

Last, but not least, one of the ultimate technologies available for enterprise lets you know how all of the rest of the technology is being used. Which applications are most used? (How does this affect our IT priorities?) Which applications generate the most support requests? (How can we better educate employees, and how can we better ensure software stability?) Which two applications are most used at once? (How can we improve the workflow between these applications? Are there alternative applications that provide both functions?) How often are e-mail attachments sent, and of what size? (Is it worth it to invest in an intranet file-sharing system?)

The computer workstation is the primary tool of the modern workplace. They are constantly generating a tremendous amount of data that could help that company increase efficiency and reduce costs. But it needs to be collected before it can be used. And it needs to be asked good questions before it can be understood.

Next Steps

I’ve written about two of the above technologies before, and you may find the following articles useful:

  • More Signal, Less Noise: The Power of RSS Mashups – Contains many suggestions about how to use 3rd party mashup tools to add value to RSS feeds.
  • Innovation in E-mail – Contains a history of recent innovations in e-mail, and a look at current and future trends. Context is everything when it comes to communication. Technology creators who want to break into enterprise markets need to think about that context: the most frequent communications take place within a closed network whose users each have a place within a hierarchical organization.

What are your thoughts on enterprise software? Do you think the above technologies could make a difference? Are there other technologies you’d recommend?