Since the first abacus, Business Technology has been a part of Business Technology. However, as the complexity increased from beads to mainframes, how Business Technology selects, implements, and maintains technology changed dramatically.
At first, IT departments emerged, becoming a centralized force controlling the decision-making process. They wielded a tremendous amount of power, determining what Business Technology everyone would use whether they liked it or not.
With cloud computing and other advances, the balance of power has shifted. Now, end users’ preferences are a top consideration in procurement, and while it may seem counterintuitive, it’s not the best Business Technology but the best experience that wins.
The shift didn’t happen overnight, nor does it have a clear-cut beginning, middle and end. It’s a slow evolution unfolding on different timelines for different functions. Still, the pattern is the same: A new tech paradigm emerges with a complexity that necessitates control by IT and engineers. Then, competition arises, complexity decreases and control moves from the tech experts to the tech-savvy.
Take email. When it first became an enterprise must-have, it was squarely IT’s responsibility. IT selected the software from among the limited options at the time, installed it on every individual computer, set up each email account and manually ensured the settings were correct. When problems arose, IT came to fix them.
As email became a commodity, IT was no longer as involved. The same holds true for things like CRM systems and billing software. IT is still in the picture, but the department that will be using the software has a larger say.
In addition to changing the role of IT from gadget gatekeeper to source of cross-functional strategic counsel, this power shift is transforming the entire world of Business Technology software.
For those of us who build solutions for Business Technology, the very way we think about our product has to change. In French, we have the term, “course à l’échalote,” which roughly describes a war of vanity. In software, competing based on features is a course à l’échalote because commodification makes each individual feature matter less. At the end of the day, people will not search for who is the best or is most flexible. They will look for the one tiny thing that, for their needs, puts one solution ahead of the rest. That’s usually the thing that makes their life easier. In other words, it’s about experience.
One great example of a company that won by offering a better experience for accomplishing a routine Business Technology task is Dropbox. When it debuted, sharing large files was a pain. Dropbox made it easier, and people liked it. That set it on the path of the virtuous circle known as product-led growth (PLG), with product driving adoption, adoption driving usage, usage driving visibility and visibility driving adoption.
Now you might be thinking, “Why is he talking about Dropbox? That’s so last decade!” You’d be kind of correct. Dropbox rose to prominence over competitors because it offered one thing they didn’t: integration with the desktop. However, the competitors caught up, and then a new one entered the field with something that made users’ lives even easier. That someone else was Google, and that something was Drive.
With Drive, Google went beyond solving a problem in how people did one task. It solved the issue of connecting tasks, giving people the ability to easily create files in the same software used to share files. People and organizations loved it. By the time Dropbox started playing catch-up, it was already too late.
That doesn’t mean Google’s dominance is untouchable. In the fast-paced world of product development, there’s always someone ready to innovate on your innovation. In the case of Google, those emerging competitors are companies like Notion, a customer of ours, that saw the weaknesses in what had started as one of the company’s biggest strengths — its interconnected ecosystem.
Notion took the opposite approach to connectedness, bringing the concepts of centralized content creation and sharing to new levels, with flexibility and integration capabilities that Google didn’t have. Go figure; people found the ability to integrate external content of all types — to-do lists, Miro boards, design prototypes, videos — really useful. Now, in addition to documents and spreadsheets, they could make lots of different things like roadmaps, databases and even Kanban. It changed the experience and made their lives easier. That helped Notion reach a $10 billion valuation.
As the landscape for business technology procurement and usage continues to shift, an entirely new category of tools built to improve, not replace, parts of the enterprise tech stack has emerged. A great example is Spendesk’s virtual payment cards. Spendesk is a customer of ours and was wise not to position itself as a replacement but as an enabler. It’s not trying to take market share from traditional credit cards and bank accounts. Instead, it’s augmenting them in a way that makes the lives of the finance department and the people who have to report expenses to them easier. As of January, Spendesk is a member of the Unicorn club.
The IT department, with its less controlling but more integral new role in the organization, is not immune to the appeal of an easier life, and developers should always keep this in mind. In the case of my company, we knew that software downloads created a hassle for IT, so we made our video engagement solution browser-based. Then, we thought about what was important to the users, and we focused on giving them a better experience through promotion features, landing pages and other integrations that work without requiring a lot of work.
With the increasing levels of automation and integration combined with the emerging world of no-code development, it appears engineering will be the next job function to undergo a radical transformation. Making a solution that makes their lives easier could easily be a success.