Guest post by Janet Muto, Partner, High Start Group. Follow Janet on Twitter! This is the first of several guest posts in the MITX 2011 Perspectives Blog Series. Stay tuned for many more posts by Boston's most influential thought leaders.
2011 is the year smart enterprise software companies will reinvent how they approach product development. Those that don’t will face shrinking revenues, disinterested customers and lost sales opportunities.
Most everyone today is a savvy user of consumer technology: using applications of all types on multiple devices every day. They are surfing, linking, taking pictures and uploading photos, buying and selling, video conferencing and playing interactive games – from their smartphone, iPad or laptop. This experience with consumer technologies is “setting the bar” for users’ expectations of business applications.
In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see an “Enterprise App” store emerge – giving users the ability to download their applications directly to their desktop, mobile device or iPad with one click – software developers, if you are getting nervous, you should be. Building for a simple, intuitive usage is much more difficult than adding features and functionality!
What does this mean for enterprise software providers? User experience requires an equal seat at the table along with the features and functions owners. Enterprise solutions must begin to look at their development processes like Apple, Facebook or Amazon do.
I’m sharing six tips to get started on a user-driven development process:
1. Use quantitative and qualitative research methods throughout the product development process. This approach will help you to establish what the big “needs” are, to determine best audience, test concepts, prioritize feature ideas, and even understand willingness to buy and pay.
2. Engage more than the development department in the process. Involve customers, marketing, customer support and partners in the process. “Innovation needs to be sourced using intelligence from various departments,” commented Andrew Burton of LogMeIn, during the FutureM panel on product strategy.
3. Validate and test your product on real users. Put concepts, prototypes and nearly ready products in front of prospective customers and actual customers. Then, ask the right questions. Often businesses are so excited by their ideas they don’t really listen to the feedback.
4. Listen to the people who talk to your customers: customer support team, telesales and executives hear from customers daily.
5. Engage your user community: If your product solves a real need, and works, you will likely find some evangelists. But don’t tune out your naysayers. What doesn’t work, and what they don’t like, is just as important to know. In the end, a curmudgeon can provide insight that’s as valuable as that provided by an evangelist.
6. Get started! My business partner Nitzan Shaer is fond of saying, “it’s not the big that will beat the small, it’s the fast that will beat the slow.”
As the FutureM panel concluded, “the risk of rebuilding [a product] is almost always lower than the risk of not getting to market.”
Enterprise software companies that miss this trend and keep doing business the “same old way” will be left behind. Newer applications with virtual environments, available on mobile will be easier to test, buy and use - and will beat out even the most functional solutions.
What would you add to this list? Have you utilized any of these tips? We'd love to hear your thoughts!
Did you just discover this series? Don't worry! You can check out our last post, by Larry Weber, here!