I n the previous installment of this blog I introduced you to my very sweet, but decidedly tech-challenged mother (who also served as a representation of the not-so-computer-savvy user of the very software products that I manage).

To illustrate the evolution of this persona, we spoke last night about plans for a visit and in the middle of the conversation she declared “I’m sharing a cloud with your father!”  I thought “What is she talking about?”  She then went on to explain that she can now add her appointments to a calendar that both my Mom & Dad can view on their respective devices.  I then starting realizing that my non-technical persona is adopting emerging technologies … Joan, is going to the cloud!

As I stated before, I want to look at the consumerization of enterprise IT from a product strategy perspective.  My concerns are more about the hurdles product teams will face providing valuable features and functionality to satisfy an increasingly astute user base.   I am going to go ahead and call this challenge the “consumerization of B2B”. This trend is being driven by simple, accessible, and pervasive technology that liberates people to work efficiently and effectively, anywhere and anytime.  Consumer technology has raised the bar and B2B software companies that can’t meet these increased expectations will be left behind.

These are the things that keep a strategic product manager, like me, up at night with a fair mix of trepidation and excitement.  Unfortunately, demand for the use of emerging technologies to provide a simple, rich user experience with anywhere, anytime, accessibility will create even greater strain to product teams already facing execution challenges symptomatic of trying to drive innovation through an ever-shrinking time-to-market window.  So how does a software company keep up with user expectations, when even the Joan persona is clamoring for functionality most development shops are unable to provide in a reasonable timeframe?

Well, I believe product strategists are really going to need to address Build, Buy, or Partner decisions with a keen eye towards innovative Integrations.  I think in this very fluid emerging consumer technology front, a prudent strategy is to be aggressive in exploring opportunities; however, you want to tread lightly in the technology itself to mitigate the risk.

Let’s go back to the conversation with mom as a simple example.  Knowing what I know now about my non-technical user persona how she uses her personal device, I would have to ask myself:

  1. Is there an opportunity to use this concept to solve a business problem for our users?
  2. Will it create a competitive advantage in our market if we added it to our product?
  3. Is this something that is critical to our core business or is there an opportunity to leverage the work that someone else has already done in this area?

The final step is to weigh the risks and the costs associated with the Build, Buy or Partner decision or, in the case of many web technologies, decide if there an API that can be leveraged to securely integrate our product with the consumer’s technology?

Hypothetically, a simplified thought process would go like this:

  1. Yes, our product does have some date-driven schedule based functionality and it would benefit to have that information accessible at all times in a central location.  Yes, there is a need to share this information with others on the team.
  2. This is not something all products in our space are taking advantage of and something that we could create a positive sales message around.
  3. No we are not in the business of building web based calendars that can be shared over mobile devices.  There are plenty of apps that already do this and are widely used by our user base. 

At this point we may decide that a quick, low-risk integration with Google calendar may be the best route.  This way, we do not lose focus on what are core product was meant to do, but we quickly get to market with a simple, rich user experience with anywhere, anytime, accessibility.  In this case, Joan can be “sharing a cloud” at work the same way she is “sharing a cloud with my father” at home.

In part 3 of this blog we are going to take a fun look at how my favorite consumer technology might fit (or not fit) in a corporate environment.

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