You're on vacation in Hawaii and want to arouse the envy of friends back on the mainland. So you update your Facebook status, create a sunset-filled album on Flickr, and even post a video of your latest surfing attempt on YouTube. Mission accomplished.
Now you're back at the office, sunburned but still riding that vacation high. That is, until it's time to share a bulky PowerPoint presentation with a coworker sitting a mere ten feet away. You try your default method -- email -- but the file is too large and bounces back. There's a seldom-used office FTP site, but you can't remember the password. You settle for saving the file to a folder on the shared drive and emailing your colleague the location ... but damn, she doesn't have the right permissions to get into the folder. Anyone have a USB flash drive handy?
Why is it that consumer technologies make sharing so easy, while our workplace resources linger in the dark ages? With today's user-friendly Web 2.0 technologies, consumers can connect, share and collaborate without storage concerns, hefty price tags, or costly maintenance. Today's entrenched (and expensive) enterprise software offerings, however, emphasize IT control and top-down management, with a Web 1.0 (aka crappy) user experience. IT departments are bogged down by frequent product upgrades, regular maintenance, and heavy administration with little time to explore new technologies that would give their companies a competitive edge.
Why do we have it so much better as consumers? Because the applications we love -- Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube -- have all been designed with the end user in mind. If consumers can't get where they need to go in three clicks or less, they'll go elsewhere, so these platforms are built to be intuitive and speedy. They also don't require any cumbersome software downloads or regular upgrades since they're in the cloud, meaning users just open a browser to get started. And because these applications are so easy to use, people actually do use them to share: more than 3.5 billion pieces of content are shared on Facebook each week, and YouTube surpassed 100 million individual viewers in 2009. Engagement hinges on ease of use, a fact not lost on our current President, whose election to office was largely driven by a powerful, bottom-up social media strategy in a campaign that was the first to truly use technology holistically.
So how do we bridge the gap between the consumer and employee experience? By demanding the consumerization of the enterprise, without losing sight of crucial workplace needs, such as security. And there are three factors already helping to drive this transformation:
The new knowledge worker
We all know that change doesn't come easy to Corporate America. But there's a new generation of knowledge workers infiltrating today's offices who will help tip the scales for user-friendly, cloud-based technologies in the office. These young employees quite literally grew up on the internet: they spent their adolescence in chat rooms, high school years downloading music through questionably legal means, and were among Facebook's first members in its college-only days. 96% of these so-called Millennials belong to a social network, and they have little tolerance for the complexities and limitations of today's enterprise technology services. And Millennials aren't the only generation to embrace user-friendly Web 2.0 technologies: social media adoption is rampant across age groups, demographics, and geography. Today's knowledge workers are more web-savvy than ever before, and they are demanding parity.
So long 9-to-5, hello workshifting
And it's not just people and technologies that are changing, it's the nature of work itself. More and more we're seeing companies grudgingly relinquish the 9-to-5 standard and try out flexible work policies based on ROWE - results-only work environment. "Workshifting" - working from coffee shops, hotels, transportation - is fast becoming a legitimate model for companies like Best Buy and IBM, and it's not just a trend. This is a complete paradigm shift, and its implications for business technologies are vast: workshifting hinges on "web commuting," meaning all tools, contacts and content should be accessible via a web browser and better yet, a mobile phone. When you're on the go, you can't drag along a server or IT staff - only user-centric, cloud-based technologies are flexible enough to make workshifting a reality.
Leaner and meaner IT
True, we're almost out of the recession, but don't expect IT budgets to sky-rocket any time soon. Although the economy is showing signs of improvement, the past few years have fundamentally altered the way businesses think about technology purchases. Higher cost does not necessarily translate to a more reliable, quality product. The last two years have trained IT departments to be lean and mean, looking for value without a monstrous price tag. Accordingly, they're buying into cloud-based technologies because they cost significantly less than traditional enterprise offerings. They're also much easier to implement: unlike the old technologies, which often require dedicated personnel, consulting and redundant infrastructure, the point of entry for the cloud is a credit card transaction. And because these new platforms are inherently end-user friendly and any maintenance is handled by the vendor (such as Google for Google Apps), IT experts can focus on boosting their company's competitive advantage through cutting edge technologies rather than firefighting cumbersome platforms or managing upgrades. With this new way of working comes a new, more strategic role for IT.
We're being driven to reinvent the way we work. Web savvy employees, flexible schedules and competitive pricing are all putting pressure on companies to match the ease and productivity of consumer technologies in the workplace. Until now, enterprise software has been more or less forced upon employees, gift-wrapped in training manuals and convoluted policies. Purchasing decisions have been made at the top without the input or approval of the people who will actually use the technology (or won't, depending on just how cumbersome it is). This model is fast becoming extinct, replaced by bottom-up adoption and selection based on value. With inexpensive or "freemium" cloud solutions, users can make their own selections, with businesses eventually selecting whichever wins out. Today, there's a whole suite of user friendly, cloud-based technologies that are secure, scalable and ready for businesses, including Google Apps for email and calendars, LinkedIn as a recruiting tool, Salesforce as a CRM solution, and Box.net as a cloud content management platform.
At Box.net, we've witnessed the beginning of this transformation first-hand. We started as a consumer service, offering web-based storage before "cloud" was a buzzword, later expanding into a cloud content management platform for businesses. Our early users became our biggest evangelists, incorporating Box.net into their work lives and spreading the service organically. Adoption began with individuals, growing to departments and finally full company deployment. The story is the same for Google's Gmail, first embraced by consumers and now a cornerstone of Google Apps.
We're on the verge of a massive shift, where user experience becomes the determining factor for technology adoption at work, just as it has always been in our personal lives. Sending that PowerPoint presentation to your neighboring colleague, or a business partner on the other side of the world, will be no more difficult than taunting friends with your Flickr photos. Let the workplace rebellion begin.