By Robert Cooper, Wildix Inc.
Though market trends may say otherwise, IT products aimed at consumers rarely fit a corporate environment. Here's why.
It's almost an unspoken rule in IT that improving technology involves shrinking things down. What's typically called "progress" in the sector is most often a process of reducing the scale of technology—which can be more concretely described as taking a product from the business-grade level to something more manageable for consumers. (Just look at how computers have gone from taking up a full room to fitting in your pocket.)
This process—what's more generally called the consumerization of IT—can have a positive impact, of course. When IT pivots toward a consumer focus, it tends to result in a more cost-effective design and a more user-friendly interface. As a result, we may be tempted to think that such changes push the entire industry forward, everyday individuals and businesses alike.
The problem, however, is that this consumer focus typically creates a more difficult environment for those users who need enterprise-grade solutions.
These issues stem more from perception than selection. IT solutions suitable for business environments still exist in the current market—it's just that those business-grade platforms have become more difficult to differentiate from ones designed for consumer use.
In other words, the problem for business owners is that the consumerization of IT has made consumer-grade solutions appear fully effective even in enterprise contexts. Because consumer-grade technology is front and center in the industry today, it conveys the idea that such platforms are the ideal solution, even ones that were actively made for business use.
And although consumer-oriented solutions can indeed have a place in business (again, look at smartphones), the point is that technology needs to be chosen based on what context its architecture was designed for.
To get more specific, up until recently many enterprise users would implement off-the-shelf consumer applications to facilitate their jobs, typically because the IT industry moved slowly and cautiously. But now, the need to expedite advanced applications and capabilities to users who have been thrust into remote-working roles has pushed even large-scale IT organizations to roll out consumer applications. This mismatch between purpose and use context, however, causes significant problems.
These issues are especially apparent if we consider how consumer apps are so often lacking in important features. Often, they have few (if any) real-time collaboration capabilities, or they set limits on how long a video call can last. They might make up for this with consumer-oriented features—maybe more fanciful points like gif keyboards—but all the same, capabilities that would help a business's day-to-day activities simply aren't present.
But why would they be? Remember, the tool itself wasn't designed for business purposes in the first place.
Far and away the most significant difference between enterprise and consumer design is security. While security certainly matters for the individual user, security in a business context is tremendously more critical, because of both the increased users at risk and the potential damage to reputation. Having not been built for those higher stakes, consumer-grade security just isn't as strict as security for enterprise-grade technology; you get connections that need a VPN on top of them, conference links that are easily hacked, or widespread password leaks on the service.
On top of a lack of function, then, there's also a lack of safety thrown into consumer solutions for good measure.
What enterprises ought to look for in a solution is a more robust design and significantly more security than what consumer options have available. Consider a platform where, say, unlimited videoconferencing is available from the same interface as chat and voice calls, where hold messages are configurable for multiple scenarios at once, and where the entire system is accessible through mobile devices. And consider, on top of that, that the platform even maintains reliable security through its inherent design, boasting automatic encryption and direct communication channels.
The value of such a platform to enterprises is practically self-evident. This specific combination of features, simplicity, and security would be well positioned to facilitate business-specific processes—and, more importantly, do so comprehensively, rather than the halfway approach offered by the consumer alternatives.
What all this means is that the architecture and design of technology matter in determining use cases. Like any tool, each piece of IT hardware or software was fashioned for a specific purpose; using it outside of that purpose just isn't a smart investment.
Instead of considering products in terms of their market presence or recognizability, businesses need to examine products in terms of their purpose and context. With how critical design and architecture are to the usability of a product, businesses must examine each solution available to them to find ones that aren't just purpose-built but built specifically for their purposes.
About The Author
Robert Cooper is Managing Director at Wildix Inc.