Ever since I got an iPad, I've been eager for the update to the upgrade to the iOS4 operating system that premiered on the iPhone months ago. The ease of use of the iPad erodes, grain by grain, with each app that you add to it, as long as you're forced to keep sweeping across page after page of apps. Organizing apps into functional groups across pages is a tedious process. After a while, you really feel the need for folders to organize your apps more effectively.
Imagine my disappointment, therefore, when iTunes froze as soon as I launched it. It was the start of yet another chapter in the story of my hate-hate relationship with iTunes, because of its unstoppable bloat and accompanying seizures. With every major update, iTunes grows another layer of fat, causing more frequent electronic coronaries when it needs to run (or waddle) through its paces. I can't say I was surprised that iTunes froze, forcing me to reinstall it (the software equivalent of sending someone to fat camp?) before I could get it working again.
Here, from a single company, on a single desktop, is the history of the tech industry's problems with complexity. A device that is consummately simple to use, the iPad, is handcuffed, like a slender Sidney Poitier to a morbidly obese Tony Curtis, to iTunes. As Apple keeps jamming more of its business plan, in the form of new features (Genius, Ping, etc.) and new content (anything that could be described as "released" or "published"), iTunes swells to ever-increasing levels of complexity.
Lately, I've been working on behalf of some Forrester clients to answer the question, "How do we build a community?" Frequently, the answer is, "You don't build a community. You expand it." Few communities appear ex nihilo at the behest of a technology vendor. More commonly, successful community sites identify an existing collection of like-minded people, then entice them to your site with something of value to them.
Developer communities are a good example. Megavendors like Microsoft, Oracle, and IBM have an easy time creating a community site, since there are already a lot of developers connected to these companies, and to each other. If SAP never created its own community site, somewhere in Social Media Land there would be a collection of technical professionals talking to each other about customizing and implementing SAP applications.
Smaller vendors, of course, don't have nearly as easy a time. If you're a sales force automation (SFA) vendor, for example, there are plenty of people out there interested in sales force effectiveness, but far fewer interested in your tool. Since developers have no direct stake in managing a sales force, you can't count on them to be interested in you in the same way that a sales VP might be. Therefore, it's hard to see why developers would participate in a SFA vendor's forums, except when they have an immediate question that needs answering. (Usually in the form of, "Why doesn't this work?")
A recent conversation with executives from Clarizen, a software company in the work/project/task management realm, shows how profoundly SaaS can change the innovation process in technology companies. However, you won't get the most beneficial changes unless you're willing to make an investment.
During our briefing, I asked the CEO of Clarizen, Avinoam Nowogrodski, and the VP of Marketing, Sharon Vardi, whether being a SaaS vendor made it any easier to resolve the sort of questions that vex technology vendors. Their response: "Of course it does."
Here's one of those vexing questions: Why don't more customers move from a pilot to full adoption? The usual first answers blame someone else's department for the disappointing conversion rate: Your product stinks. Your leads stink. Your salespeople stink.
Round-robin finger-pointing like this thrives in an informational vacuum. If the only hard fact available is the conversion rate, marketing can accuse sales of presumed incompetence; sales can claim that the current bug count might have an effect on customer satisfaction; development can claim that it's bogged down in too many special requests from strategic customers; and so on.
During last August's Agile 2010 conference, I attended a session that used a board game to simulate the collaboration between developers and UX professionals. The object of the game was to coordinate the schedules of these two groups, who normally follow the beats of different metronomes. On top of that basic timing challenge, unexpected events complicated this dance between development and UX.
While this session does show a novel application of serious gaming (one of my favorite topics, in case you hadn't noticed), the interesting aspect of this session is that it happened at all. Until recently, UX was not a major concern for Agilists – or most people developing software, for that matter. The phrase, "And then we'll throw a UI on top of it," summarized the indifference of all too many development teams to UX concerns.
In the last few years, many teams have learned a new attitude. Instead of treating UX as a tarpaulin, thrown over the application to clumsily hold it all together, UX is as much a part of the system as the technical architecture or the application logic.