Enterprise Software and the Fun Factor

Ann All

It must have been quite the "a-ha" moment when that first enterprise software vendor hit upon the idea of promoting ease-of-use as a desirable feature. For decades, products were sold exclusively on their abilities to enhance productivity and boost efficiencies. As long as they could demonstrate bottom-line benefits, no one cared what users thought. Somewhere along the line, though, folks started looking at the number of unused licenses. They connected the dots and realized the confusing and/or intimidating interfaces of some software meant people resisted using it. It was bad for employee morale and bad for ROI.


Although it was a fairly big leap from "efficiency" to "ease of use," the jump from "ease of use" to "fun" likely won't be as large. After all, folks are more likely to carry expectations from fun-to-use consumer technology with them to work. (Not just underlings, but executives, too.) Also, at least some IT pros are realizing the value of fun.


When a company called Den-Mat decided to update its 30-year-old customer- and order-management application, it opted for hosted CRM software from Salesforce.com, according to a Forbes piece. Jonathan Green, the company's vice president of IT, ran the old customer-management system in parallel when he rolled out Salesforce, because he assumed some employees might resist the change. Within a week, however, everyone had switched to Salesforce. Green credits Chatter, the Salesforce collaboration tool he introduced at the same time, for the rapid adoption. He said:

I think it's a fun factor -- you can't underestimate fun.

Chatter saw similarly rapid adoption at FinancialForce.com, a Salesforce partner that uses Chatter for its internal collaboration needs and has also integrated Chatter into its FinancialForce Accounting app and created a business collaboration application called Chatterbox on Salesforce's ChatterExchange. When I interviewed FinancialForce CEO Jeremy Roche in May, he told me it took roughly four hours for all 55 of FinancialForce's employees, who are scattered across two continents, to adopt Chatter.


Both Green and Roche also spoke about Chatter's ability to encourage connections and camaraderie among dispersed work forces, which are becoming more common in companies of all sizes. Here at IT Business Edge, our salespeople are scattered around the country, as are our editorial contributors. (In fact, the editorial department is international, with one writer, Paul Mah, based in Singapore.) Our editors and writers tend to be very self-directed. If we worked on more team projects, I think we'd be clamoring for a tool like Chatter. As it is, most of us are friends on Facebook and communicate with each other throughout the day via frequent instant messages. Said Green:

It makes people who are working from home feel not quite so detached from the organization.

Using fun as a selling point certainly hasn't hurt Facebook's growth. In the past seven months, Facebook has seen a 25 percent increase in the number of registered accounts, from 400 million to 500 million. It has some 125 million unique visitors a day, an increase from 25 million from this time last year. Alexa.com. predicts Facebook will overtake the more utilitarian Google within 18 months to become the most-visited website in the world.


Comparing Facebook to enterprise software obviously isn't an apples-to-apples exercise; it's more like apples-to-oranges. Still, enterprise vendors can learn some lessons from Facebook, and one of them is that making your products fun to use will make people want to use them. I think vendors are beginning to get it, with most of them no longer shying away from Facebook comparisons.

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