There is no Enterprise

There is no Enterprise

I understand this may be controversial considering I work for IBM, but I’d like to propose the following: let’s stop talking about “Enterprise”. Enterprise code, enterprise design, enterprise color schemes, enterprise anything. As far as I can see, there is no such thing as “Enterprise”, at least not any more, and not how it gets used.

Often I see Enterprise getting used to describe scale or security or acceptable level of complication via complexity, but the truth of the matter is that those are things that “consumer” products need to get right as well and very often do so much better. There’s a reason that the language used to describe interactions with “enterprise software” is so often “I’m forced to use this at work” and that users aren’t clamouring to use that software at home. My understanding of IBM Design’s mission is to help change this, but I don’t think it’s enough to make design a focus of “enterprise” software, we need to stop thinking about what we build as “enterprise”.

The other place where I see “enterprise” being used is to justify bad practices like not caring about performance of what we build or not designing responsively and mobile first or vendor/framework lock in or not supporting open source software or supporting outdated browsers (arguments about needing to support IE6 for everything we’re doing, where come January 12, 2016, Microsoft will not support anything below IE11, even for large scale businesses and government). Microsoft’s announcement about IE11 is telling about the word “Enterprise”; they call their compatibility mode “Enterprise Mode for Internet Explorer 11” but use it in context to describe outdated software.

To me, “Enterprise” means nothing more than we sell to businesses as opposed to directly to individuals, but quite honestly that’s changing. Many of our products have large consumer facing portions, Bluemix, Watson, and Verse for to name a few, but that’s besides the point. While we may sell to businesses, the people who are using our products expect them to be created and maintained with the same level of care as consumer facing products and don’t want to feel the dread of “using Enterprise software”. They just want to use software. They want an experience, both in terms of design and development, that meets or exceeds their expectations of consumer software, because the two are colliding.

While I feel this problem has lived under the surface for a long time, the recent explosion of hardware and software truly realizing the dream of personal computing (thanks iPhone) has, like with so many other areas of software development, really brought this problem to light. Previously, your work email application was one of, if not the only way, you had access to email. But consumers now often not only have multiple email addresses but they have them from multiple providers and use multiple different pieces of software to access their email. If they don’t like what they have, there are a proliferation of other options, both carriers and software, for them to switch to. Because of this, consumers have become acutely aware of what makes a good user experience, good design, and good development. even if they can’t articulate the details themselves. It’s become part of the DNA of the mobile computing revolution. The way to stay relevant is to meet and exceed consumer’s expectations of good software, not just good “work” software.

So, next time you catch yourself or a colleague describing something as “enterprise”, stop and ask yourself if you’d be happy with the outcome if you personally had to pay for it. You’re likely to find that it’ll change your opinion.