Over the past decade, a new set of user-oriented enterprise applications has arrived to support a variety of business use cases across both horizontal use cases such as analytics and collaboration as well as departmental use cases such as finance and sales. Blue Hill notes that these User Solution Enterprise Ready (USER) applications have the following attributes:
- Product and Service Design: Consumer-grade ease-of-use and visual clarity
- Focused Functionality: Can be used in the first hour that an end user has access to the application
- User Focus: Focus on the work process associated with a job role or job need
- Time-to-value: Production-ready in less than two weeks for a defined use case
- Virality: Easy to expand usage to multiple users
- Scalable Performance: No concerns in supporting thousands of users on a single corporate instance
By purchasing USER-based applications that include both User Solution focus and Enterprise-Ready functionality, Blue Hill believes that enterprises can fix existing process pain points into low-risk technology solutions have a payback period of less than six months and provide ongoing value for the organization at large.
In using the acronym USER and including the word “user,” Blue Hill follows the proud “bacronym” tradition of technology that apocryphally includes the venerable email client Pine (Pine Is Not Elm).
To further explore this concept of USER applications, Blue Hill explores the concept of the USER application through the lens of six different solutions. All of these solutions have executed on all of these characteristics to some extent, but Blue Hill believes that there are specific characteristics where each of these solutions stands out. Blue Hill calls out the following six applications for their success as USER applications:
* DataRobot: a machine learning predictive modeling optimization solution
* FloQast: a cloud-based financial close solution
* IBM Watson Analytics: a predictive analytics solution with natural language inputs
* Slack: a team collaboration platform
* Tableau: an analytic discovery and business intelligence platform
* Tact: a mobile sales enablement application with verbal and natural language interaction
Design: Blue Hill still believes that design is the next great battlefield in enterprise applications, especialy for USER applications. The combination of user interface, layout, ease of use, and ease of administration needs to be an active and continuous effort on the behalf of the vendor as users want to be able to use their application immediately. In this regard, Blue Hill believes that Tact and DataRobot serve as good examples of smart application design.
Tact (which recently raised a $15 million B round) has a natural language capability that allows sales people to literally speak to their application and get answers to questions such as “what is the status of my sales opportunities?” Even as sales people are on the road or lack access to their computers, they can ask their phones or Amazon Alexas for the information they are looking for.
In contrast, DataRobot requires statistical knowledge to set up proper parameters, but allows users to quickly design a wide portfolio of potential predictive models simply by providing a set of data. These parameters are set up based on standard statistician and data scientist expectations. Although DataRobot is not focused on supporting all employees, it is well-designed for its specialized data scientist audience.
Functionality: USER applications must be focused on providing immediate outputs that can be translated into user value. For instance, DataRobot’s predictive analytics model suggestions based on data scientist logic allow users to quickly translate raw data into business-ready algorithms. By accelerating the data scientist’s ability to test the relevance of statistical models, DataRobot’s functionality leads directly to accelerating time-to-value for predictive analytics.
And in creating predictive recommendations, Blue Hill notes how IBM Watson Analytics has been valuable since its launch to quickly identify predictive recommendations and provide deeper statistical analysis associated with business data. By providing both a natural language input that allows business managers to ask questions about their data and providing back-end statistical outputs for further statistical and data scientist analysis, IBM’s Watson Analytics looks at both entry-level and advanced functionality.
User focus: Blue Hill recently analyzed FloQast through the lens of five of its customers to determine the efficacy of the solution in supporting financial close. The success of the application is supported by a company that employs accountants at every aspect of the business and created to support the accountant’s pain points. This focus drives the simplicity of deployment and the need to fit the software around the user’s processes rather than vice versa. This expectation on being a strong user solution is a core aspect of being a true USER application.
The user focus for Tact is evident not only in its functionality, but from its focus on natural language processing. In plain terms, sales people like to talk. Tact allows them to directly speak to their sales data and get answers spoken back to them rather than relying solely on a text-based interface. By focusing on the user first rather than what is easiest to support from a technology perspective, Tact stands out in the crowded sales enablement space.
Time-to-Value: To succeed as a USER application, the solution must both be easy to use and provide near-immediate value through its functionality. Both IBM’s Watson Analytics for predictive analytics and Slack for collaboration are usable within minutes of creating an account to support predictions immediately.
When Blue Hill spoke to FloQast, an accounting close solution, we found that software purchasers typically put new employees through a 15-minute training session to get them started on using FloQast to support the monthly close and have a production implementation in place one-to-two weeks after signing off on the solution.
Virality: No discussion of USER application virality can be truly explored without mentioning Tableau, the company that perfected land-and-expand in the analytics world. By providing a fantastic data discovery product at the analyst level, Tableau grew at a meteoric pace by being easy to use and then by winning enough individual users to justify an enterprise-level Server investment. By providing consumer-level loyalty and combining with an effective sales model, Tableau grew into a market leader.
Similarly, Slack has quickly expanded where many collaboration solutions have frozen or stumbled, such as Yammer, Salesforce Chatter, and Skype, by creating a faster, simpler, and freemium product that provides both immediate functionality and supports users quickly.
Scalability and Performance: Ultimately, to provide enterprise-wide value, technologies also have be trusted and available across the entire business. And in understanding this, Blue Hill looks back to Tableau. Over the past decade, Tableau has steadily increased the computing power and number of users supported to the point where Tableau now has thousands of users for its largest deployments and has launched Tableau Online and Tableau Server on public cloud to place the responsibility for computing at scale to the cloud.
Blue Hill also notes how IBM Watson Analytics has taken a cloud-based approach to open up predictive analytics to the masses. By providing a fully cloud-based solution, IBM has made predictive analytics more readily available for adoption. By doing so, performance is no longer a potential barrier to ongoing adoption.
Any process that takes up over one week per month or over two hours in any work day should be a viable target for technology-based optimization. As enterprises and large organizations seek software solutions to support these time-consuming tasks, Blue Hill recommends that companies start with a USER application approach. Look for software solutions that are custom-built to solve an end-user’s direct set of problems around a common enterprise challenge.