From complexity to simplicity: Lessons learnt in enterprise apps from Michelangelo

While it is true that core technologies themselves have greatly evolved, such as the iPhone which celebrated its 10-year anniversary in June, another evolution has occurred alongside technology: one of market demands and user expectations. These dictate the brief for how today’s technology solutions look and feel.

An underlying quality of that brief is simplicity. Not that this is anything new. From the Egyptian Bust of Nefertiti to Pablo Picasso’s Guitar, artists have acknowledged the importance of simplicity. In fact, French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery famously said regarding design, “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” A pioneering example of this is Michelangelo’s David. His techniques in creating sculptures is of great relevance to today’s enterprise mobile app design.

The functionality arms race

During the time I was director of product management at Siebel, it became the fastest software company to reach the $1 billion revenue mark in history - faster than Oracle or Microsoft. By the late 1990s, Siebel dominated the CRM applications market. A key that drove this success was its “first-mover advantage”. Siebel saw that communication between a company and its customers was increasing via numerous channels. Siebel responded by providing a multi-channel platform, which delivered the much hyped “360-degree view of customers”, opening up communication across the call centre, website, salesperson, branch office and more. At the time, competitors had not caught up with advanced solutions so the market ate it up.

We felt we were in an “arms race” of functionality. Our requirements documents were as thick as a phone book with extensive details on features, functions and complexity. We were constantly looking to expand application functionality without giving enough attention to the application’s user interface from a customer’s perspective.

The demand for simplicity

In sharp contrast, today’s approach to product design across the software industry has completely transformed. Salesforce disrupted Siebel's core market with a new subscription business and SaaS delivery model with cheaper up-front prices, quicker deployment and simplified upgrades. Systems such as Siebel were considered too complex by many users and Salesforce served as an antidote to those systems. At Siebel, we would tell our customers how our functionality was far superior and they would respond saying that was precisely why they chose Salesforce. Salesforce is a great example of “judo marketing”; it took advantage of the powerful desire for simplicity, essentially using Siebel’s strengths against itself through its new product.

Examples of moving away from complexity towards simplicity can be seen everywhere. Google revolutionised the Internet with the single-search box interface. Amazon turned over retail with one-click shopping. Apple brought the smartphone to the world. Although the iPhone didn’t have the best camera, music player or game platform, it brought these features all together in a simple, easy to use device.

Well-sculpted enterprise mobile apps

Michelangelo’s “David” is one of the most recognisable pieces of art in history. This iconic sculpture was made from a twice discarded, 40-year-old block of marble. When asked how he created the sculpture, Michelangelo famously replied, “I just removed the extra marble to expose the beauty inside.”

Similarly, by removing the excess complexity of underlying IT systems, users can enjoy an excellent experience and one approach to accomplish this is through the use of micro apps. A micro app is a consumer-oriented mobile application which delivers highly targeted functionality. It transforms overly complex processes and systems into easy-to-use, one minute workflows and applications that can communicate with each other, making it an excellent solution for field workers and HR for example. Since user expectations are different compared to 20 years ago, micro apps require different functionality and interaction modes than the underlying enterprise apps.

The challenge is that with most enterprise applications having been built years before anyone could imagine such a thing as a smartphone, it takes a lot of work and patience to create a micro app. That is why at Capriza we have worked hard to create micro apps in a straightforward manner, weaving the principle of simplicity from the first stage of creation. Our platform enables micro app development with no coding and APIs. Enterprise applications may provide sophisticated functionality, but if it looks like a jagged lump of marble, the market will not embrace it. Micro apps are the tools modern day Michelangelos can use to expose the beauty inside enterprise applications.

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