The future of the enterprise is simple

Profile picture for user greg.mcstravick By Greg McStravick December 10, 2014
Summary:

Software complexity is the enemy of great user experiences
The mission critical systems of yesteryear are not equipped for modern business
SAP's Greg McStravick shares field lessons on the pursuit of simple

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I recently spoke with a group of students at Villanova University about how people and companies need to continuously reinvent themselves in order to be relevant and effective and in terms of “running simple”. Companies have to reinvent their operating model to get back to simple.

If you think about it, in the beginning, most companies start out the same—an idea, a basic plan, some resources, and a few processes. Things are simple, straightforward, and clear. Decisions are made in real time based on immediate inputs and analysis. Complexity is not even on the horizon.

But as companies grow, expand their offerings, acquire other companies – essentially, become successful—they also become more complex. As legal, financial, and managerial needs change, processes and systems are added to the mix. Companies become less centralized. Top leadership moves farther away from day-to-day activities. And the need for increased reporting, forecasting systems, predictive models, and sentiment monitoring develops.

Take a look at leading technology companies like HP, Apple, Amazon, and Google – all who, when you think about it, began very simply in someone’s garage. Each of these companies made the journey from simple to complex.  Some of them are massively complex. Can you even imagine trying to run a company the size of HP today without ERP, CRM, HRM systems and huge databases that store increasing quantities of information they need to search and analyze? Complexity has become an inherent part of their DNA.

Understanding the value of simplicity

Let me use an incredibly simple example to illustrate how a company can be sidelined because of complexity. Recently, Mark Zuckerberg (who by the way, started Facebook in a dorm room) was asked why he dresses so simply. His answer shows exactly why companies have to address the issue of complexity:

#AskMark: Why do you wear the same shirt every day? from Facebook on Vimeo.

Now look at the broader view and apply this to a large, complex, company. How much time and energy is being spent on the decisions that shouldn’t matter, but have to be made, because complexity is driving the company rather than a focus on innovation, customers, products, and services. That said, it’s absurd to think you can simplify your processes without simplifying your technology and vice versa. Our processes are linked to the technology we use and often, they are put in place to deal with technology limitations or complexity.

The problem of complexity is underscored by the ease of use of consumer apps, quickly downloaded to your device of choice. Today’s enterprise user is simply not interested in IT’s excuses. “Enterprise-grade” should not mean clunky software. Writing for The Next Web, Jean-Pierre Pequito said:

In the past years consumer software has shifted towards simplicity.  However, large organizations are dependently integrated with legacy systems built a decade ago for a different generation of users. Enterprise IT has been sustaining innovation by incrementally adding functionality without reducing complexity. This leads them to make poor decisions based on a distorted reality of what is happening inside their companies.

Mission critical systems created in the last twenty years are not going to get you where you need to be in today’s marketplace and they won’t take you into the future. This is the time to take a good, hard look at your infrastructure and figure out whether it has the chops for the longer term. I absolutely believe it’s the systems that will determine how simply your company can operate. If your infrastructure does not allow you to run simple, it doesn’t matter how many processes you change—you’re still going to be working with the core problem – complexity!

From my experience working with customers; I have seen three basic themes that helped them bring their company back to simple:

1. Break the Mold
We’ve been trained to work within limits set by technologies, processes, and people invested in the status quo. Companies that break free from these restrictions have been able to define what works for them.

A company that comes to mind is Molson Coors, a global brand that continues to expand into new territories.  Their multitude of systems made it difficult to keep up with growing user demand.  Instead of the typical IT fix, Molson Coors reinvented how they will use technology to take them into the future.  This opportunity paid-off and they immediately experienced company-wide benefits, such as: reporting is completed in real time, forecasting is performed faster and more frequently, duplication of information has been reduced:

2. Collaboration for Simplicity
Through painful experiences, companies have come to realize that every business area within their company needs to have a say in the technology they use. If the technology isn’t simple and doesn’t provide a great interface, it won’t be used. People will work around your systems and this will add to the level of complexity. Customers serious about going simple have brought their IT department and business area to the table and this has enhanced their business.

3. It Doesn’t Hurt to Ask
Customers are asking a new set of questions, they want to know how a technology provider can help them become simple, how simple is the user experience and how can technology can take us into the future.

Conclusion

Bringing your company back to simple is not an easy journey, but even the most complex companies can with the right technologies.  For companies to be relevant, successful, and disruptive—to their competition and the marketplace - simple is the key to innovation.

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