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@ThingsExpo: Article

‘Business as Usual’ Not an Option

Consumer experience meets enterprise utility and function

This month, we released our latest MetraNet® 8.0 software. What makes this release particularly exciting is that it bridges the gap between the complex business models and customer and partner empowerment that is unique to MetraTech with the user experience typically found in consumer software. In other words, form meets utility and function without compromise.

Enterprises across all industries are being forced to adapt to unprecedented levels of change. If there is one phrase that needs to be removed from the enterprise vernacular, it is "business as usual." Today business is messy and anything but usual. Enterprises are under pressure to evolve at a pace unlike anything we have seen before, and in a competitive environment that demands innovation and does not tolerate ‘me too' mediocrity or services.

The evolution of Internet of Things (IoT), Cloud, and Everything-as-a-Service (XaaS) is creating a fundamental transformation in the world of enterprise software. One of the greatest impacts is on billing software, the heart pacer for any company - after all without billing it is just a hobby.

Enterprises must be able to embrace change and exploit market opportunities as they arise and their billing platforms cannot get in the way. A static position is a commodity position and those companies that cannot adapt services and business models to evolving market conditions will not grow or worse yet, cease to exist. Billing systems have to support changing business models not simple price changes. The entire approach to pricing, introducing products and services to market, collecting revenue and compensating partners must be rethought, but adapting to this new environment can be challenging across the following fronts:

Business complexity
Today's enterprises are global and serve local markets where the brand, product and pricing strategy are often unique to a region and partner. While it is imperative to support regional requirements, corporate needs visibility and adherence to policies for brand control and pricing. In addition, the dual forces of increasing business model complexity and the need to provide a consumerized user experience are colliding.

Traditional enterprise software powerhouse companies are under attack as a result of Cloud, digital and XaaS. The standard no-risk decision to simply select a familiar supplier can now mean death for a business. For far too long, enterprise software lagged behind that of consumer in usability and ease of use. But now business users are bringing their consumer devices and apps to the office, and expect business apps to have the look, feel and usability of their mobile devices or social platforms. The new modern approach for building enterprise software is to focus on helping business users perform their daily routines and access the information they need to be empowered and successful - in a user friendly way.

Flexibility to adapt at the pace of business
The new competitive landscape rewards companies with a deep understanding of their customers and markets. Information that is intuitive and readily accessible enables enterprises to respond to changing business requirements with agility. The ability to easily decode complex data and turn it into information that is relevant to stakeholders across the organization is critical. But what do you do with the information once you've attained it and want to adjust and act?

Having the ability to quickly adjust and make changes is the equivalent of enterprise gold. The inevitable evolution path, driven by user demand, is in the direction of user-driven configuration. The next level of user-empowerment is here: by manipulating metadata and generating XML scripts, expert users can readily adjust process flows, create new processes, create new fields, and develop more and more complex decision criteria that profoundly determine the way the application can be used to support a business. The best enterprise applications have already moved the balance towards user-driven configuration. This not only makes business users very happy but also reduces the turnaround time for changes, accelerates time to market for services and reduces costs.

Products become services
The as-a-service movement is having a profound impact in every vertical market. Products are transitioning to services (actions supported by things), and they differ in several important ways from products (things supported by actions). While product options are generally well-defined up front by the manufacturer, customers want to mix and match pieces of different services and essentially create their own unique offerings. The definition of the service can easily become fuzzier as you serve more customers. Customers know that customizing a mass-produced product is a challenge, but they think it's easy to fine-tune a service. It doesn't come pre-formed in a box, after all.

But, unlike products, services tend to be fuzzy around the edges, and they can be shape-shifters. The world of XaaS will enable a lot of shape-shifting through customization, bundling and mash-ups. Some service providers will embrace this, while others will struggle to keep up.

Embracing the inherent flexibility of services means using software that is inherently flexible enough to do the job.

Addressing multiple vertical industries
Services and applications are all software components that are interconnected and increasingly cross-vertical as Cloud and IoT breakdown silos. These days it seems as if every company wants to develop an industry vertical strategy. Companies are building entire partner ecosystems and recruiting talent from companies in financial services/insurance, health-care/life sciences, retail/consumer products, communications/media, automotive industries to address these markets. The charter is clear: grow revenues across vertical industries and recruit Independent Software Vendors (ISVs), System Integrators and application developers to build solutions to take on old guard software vendors. This requires software platforms that are adaptable enough to support the unique requirements of multiple vertical markets through extensions on top of core software.

Turning data into actionable information
Business stakeholders across the enterprise must be empowered to make decisions that support revenue and profitability objectives. The ability to derive meaningful information from data is critical, as is being able to adjust and quickly make changes. The overwhelming amount of data available makes the process all the more difficult.

Anyone that is interacting with customers and partners need to be empowered to drive personalized interactions and proactive upselling. As a result, the greatest impact on enterprise software is the user experience. Companies that embrace the strengths of consumer apps from a usability perspective will unlock value across the entire enterprise. A well designed enterprise UI is intuitive and shows that thought was put into the function and it is tailored to specific business processes. Of course it should also be visually impressive.

However, what you often see these days are lightweight consumer applications more suited for Internet merchants being targeted at enterprises. Sure, there are high-quality visual elements in the user interface that make these glossy and slick, but here is the problem: if the application compromises the ability for a business to differentiate and compete in the market; the product soon loses its luster.

The modern enterprise is upon us
We must embrace the challenge of an expanding service universe with a limitless number of possibilities and service combinations. Making a dynamic portfolio of services available and usable, monetizing that portfolio - as well as ensuring that each contributor to these increasingly complex value chains is compensated is exciting. There is no doubt that to be successful in this evolving environment, organizations will have to change many aspects of the way in which they run their businesses. Not all of the traditional business models, tools, relationships or ways of working will survive. That's evolution.

More Stories By Esmeralda Swartz

Esmeralda Swartz is VP, Marketing Enterprise and Cloud, BUSS. She has spent 15 years as a marketing, product management, and business development technology executive bringing disruptive technologies and companies to market. Esmeralda was CMO of MetraTech, now part of Ericsson. At MetraTech, Esmeralda was responsible for go-to-market strategy and execution for enterprise and SaaS products, product management, business development and partner programs. Prior to MetraTech, Esmeralda was co-founder, Vice President of Marketing and Business Development at Lightwolf Technologies, a big data management startup. She was previously co-founder and Senior Vice President of Marketing and Business Development of Soapstone Networks, a developer of resource and service control software, now part of Extreme Networks.

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