What the enterprise can learn from consumer tech

The enterprise requires a deeper understanding of what draws end-users to consumer tech and how it changes their expectations in the workplace

Today's corporate end-users are far more tech-savvy than their productivity with IT tools indicates. After all, screen-deep in IMs, widgets, and elaborate consumer Web apps, they're proving themselves well-versed in the production and distribution of content as facilitated by the consumer Web 2.0 craze. Yet to surface this hidden expertise in an enterprise setting requires a deeper understanding of what draws end-users to these technologies and how these consumer technologies are reshaping end-users' tech expectations in the workplace.

It's with this proposition in mind that we take a look at a bevy of consumer tech winners -- and one high-profile dud -- in an effort to help IT capitalize on the ongoing Web 2.0 adoption curve in the consumer space. After all, the consumer market has long been a proving and training ground for technologies that later hone the enterprise's competitive edge.

So, take a tip from these seemingly lowbrow technologies, tap the interests and acumen your end-users are developing, and put the consumer-tech proving ground to work to create a more collaborative and productive enterprise.

YouTube

When YouTube was founded in February 2005, few thought it would work. Video delivery on the Web was spotty, and previous video-sharing sites had failed miserably. Yet, 20 months later, when Google bought YouTube for US$1.6 billion, the site was a household word, serving more than 100 million clips a day.

Enterprises developing Web-based apps, especially those aimed at culling content from end-users, would be wise to take a cue from YouTube's success. Not only has the site bucked convention by not forcing viewers to watch ads before each clip, it has also tapped the Flash Player format, enabling clips to roll right away without launching a separate player. Respecting users' time does more than just increase productivity; it ensures they will return to your app, time and again -- vital when the tool's purpose is to tap users for contributions and maximize the impact and reach of their knowledge.

Furthermore, YouTube hasn't been picky about upload formats, encouraging a wide range of contributions, from grainy cell phone clips to high-end digital productions. Also essential to stoking a critical mass of content, YouTube deftly combined the masses' desire for self-expression with semipro content such as the early hit " The Evolution of Dance ," uploaded by an established performer.

Enterprises building collaboration portals or knowledge management systems would do well to emulate YouTube not only by encouraging contributions with as few restrictions as possible but also by actively reaching out to key early adopters to prime the pump. Once the content gets rolling, give users multiple, easy ways to navigate -- including relevancy gauges such as number of previous views -- to help them make the most of it.

But before you pack your portal with functionality, take note. YouTube also shows the importance of a simple focus. Despite the temptation to keep adding features, focus can drive usage, while clutter often dampens it.

-- David L. Margulius

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