Why enterprise IT pros should fear Apple and IBM

If you've ever sat in front of your enterprise app and wondered why its interface is cluttered, confusing and complicated, you're not alone -- but Apple's Tim Cook has a vision to change this.


Kill the complexity

Back in the olden days (when Microsoft ran the show) the perception among the powers-that-be was that productivity software had to be complicated. Being complicated showed that workers were working, and gave visual representation of the kind of specialization that exists in every industry.

This is often expressed in something called "metalanguage." That's the concoction of industry-specific terms to describe relatively simple concepts. So, for example, retailers these days like to talk about "the customer journey," which is a way of expressing what happens between the time  someone decides they need something and actually purchasing it somewhere.

The introduction and use of philosophical complexity is one way in which incredibly well-paid people justify their position. While the subtext of using such language is that they do understand their job and have an intellectual understanding of their industry, does this also require their enterprise solutions be overly complex? Not really. In many cases such complexity is only present to help the IT department justify its own position.

Keeping it simple

Apple CEO Tim Cook and IBM think it is time to stop this nonsense, and deliver enterprise solutions at once simple and complex. Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, he says: “Imagine enterprise apps being as simple as the consumer apps that we’ve all gotten used to. That’s the way it should be.”

He's right. How many of us have stared at a well-known productivity application and wondered where the tool is to do something insanely simple? When it comes to enterprise apps, the situation is worse. Why is this necessary?

In what way does it make sense that enterprise software requires users waste time figuring out where the tools are to transact a simple process? This is meant to be productivity software. It's meant to save time, not squander it.

Big Data for the people

Solving this silly problem is part of what Apple and IBM intend under their recently announced deal. Big data (referred to three times by Cook in an Apple memo concerning the deal) is part of this. Making big data analysis comprehensible without sacrificing power is essential. Why? Because there aren't enough trained big data analysts to fill the needs of industry. The solution? Make it easier to analyse the data without sacrificing any insights.

That's part of what Apple and IBM will offer. They will jointly develop workplace apps that provide a comprehensible front end to the big data analytics IBM provides.

From the WSJ: "Apple and IBM said the ambition is to reimagine how people work by connecting securely the insights gleaned from big data analytics with an easy-to-use app on smartphones and tablets that consumers are familiar with."

IBM Chief Executive Virginia Rometty said Apple engineers are able “to take the complex and render it simple.”

Shape up, or ship out

When they do this, Apple and IBM will set the path for the future of enterprise apps. This means the apps you use in your personal and in your professional life will be simple, uncluttered, functional and full of power.

While this will do nothing to reduce the prejudice some enterprise IT professionals have against Apple (after all, this unnecessary complexity in their solutions keeps them employed). But for people who actually use these solutions, Apple and IBM are now actively attempting to transfer Apple's legendary ease of use from the consumer straight into the enterprise markets.

This will be a sea change. Every other competitor will have no choice but to follow their lead. It will force those currently working in enterprise IT to think much more deeply about the solutions they provide. The expectation will become one in which they will be expected to deliver complexity and power within applications users can understand. And if they don't, they'll be out of a job.

That's just how it's going to be.

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Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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