• December 1, 2007
  • By Denis Pombriant, founder and managing principal, Beagle Research Group

The Democratization of Technology

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Numerous companies have introduced solutions over the past year that enable users to more easily develop, modify, and maintain on-demand applications. On-demand platform-based application development and deployment is now an important and growing part of business computing and although the CRM world -- the first area to witness this transformation -- is no longer the only place to find it, CRM may be the market that can derive the greatest benefit from it. Front-office applications are among the systems most likely to adapt to the evolving requirements of individual customers as well as larger markets. In the back-office world, change is not viewed as a universally good thing -- companies build those systems for efficiency and regard them as their "secret sauce." How a company interacts with suppliers, tracks inventory, or operates a warehouse are all closely guarded secrets that drive effective operations. In the last few years, though, the front office has been all about the customer -- and companies are increasingly aware that to drive customer value they often need to make adjustments to their software-supported business processes. An adjustment often requires building whole new processes -- and the systems to support them -- and that often means enabling more people to do the work. As the front-office market evolved, many applications either didn't get built at all or, perhaps worse, were built poorly--either in spreadsheets or based on PC tools and databases. Often these "applications" -- though useful -- don't connect with a company's primary data. Want a good idea for a new business application? Take a look at what end users are building in spreadsheets. Whole categories such as compensation management, pricing and quoting, configuration -- even the granddaddy of them all, sales force automation -- began in spreadsheets. The spreadsheet has become the poor man's application-development tool. Its ubiquity and ease of use makes it ideal. What if real application tools were that easy to use? The answer to that question is embedded in the platform and we can make a lot of educated guesses. Any technology spreading across a market must democratize, growing simpler and easier to use as the people handling it share fewer of the high-end skills of the specialists who first adopted it. A useful example is analytics. Once reserved for a few statisticians in marketing, analytics democratized and was delivered to the masses in the last decade. The result has been better decision-making up and down the organization -- just in time to ensure the success of business trends that "flatten" the enterprise. Great things happen when a technology democratizes. More people having access means more ideas generated and more uses for the technology. This tinkering moves in countless directions and inspires other innovations. Some directions are dead ends, sure, but with a good general-purpose technology many succeed, causing a ripple effect. For example, you don't need a working knowledge of transmissions or fuel-injection systems to drive a car today, though at one point that knowledge was considered important. The same kind of thing can be said now about software development, deployment, and maintenance. Just as a reliable platform to shield us from the complexity of cars resulted in more drivers, the application-software platform performs a similar function. I don't know what it will lead to but I bet the platform will unleash a new round of creativity in business applications and result in new and unforeseen challenges, opportunities, and even whole new concepts. Whatever happens, I bet customers will find ways to benefit. Denis Pombriant is the founder and managing principal of Beagle Research Group, a CRM market research firm and consultancy. He can be reached at denis.pombriant@beagleresearch.com.
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