Guest blog: Applification and its role in digital services
Guest blog written by Charles Orton-Jones.
Applification is a horrible word, but a beautiful concept. I first heard it when I was talking to Matt Asay, the open-source advocate, currently at MongoDB.
Matt was bursting with praise for the new range of software packages which make Big Data easy to use. Hadoop, Pig, Jive, and the other Big Data tools are tricky for laymen. So these apps are stepping in with a drag-and-drop UI, simple instruction set, pretty colour schemes, and suddenly anyone can be a Big Data scientist.
He was struggling for a word for this trend…and invented applification.
A dictionary definition for applification would be something like: verb, to reduce user-end complexity by adopting the features of a mobile app.
When I read the Fujitsu report Digital Inside Out my immediate response was that we need more applification. Way more. The survey identifies a problem in British companies.
The data proves employees know they need to use technology to prosper, and are happy to do so. Three-quarters believe the future success of their organisation hinges on effective use of digital tech. Yet they can’t use the kit they’ve got. Almost half (45%) of employees say can’t be certain they are getting the most from the tools they have. The majority (58%) said they are neutral or strongly negative about the digital services offered by employers. This is a huge deal.
The survey drills down into why these employees are struggling. Half say they lack training, so they don’t know what to do. 42% say they don’t know what is available to them. A third say they don’t have the time to get the most from their technology. That’s the bottleneck.
Training would help. But training is expensive, in terms of cash and time. Another downside to training is that tends to be specific to each tool. There’s poor transferability. If employees use only one or two packages then training may be justified, but we are seeing a diversification of tools. This is an age when the average smartphone user has 42 apps on their device. Power-users open more than ten a day. We want staff to use multiple technologies, and to be free to experiment with new ones.
So what do we need? Mr Asay had the answer.
Applification means building software which is intuitive to use. The basic functionality should demand near-to-zero explanation. The ethos which makes Angry Birds, Instagram and Runtastic open to a ten-year-old needs to inspire the UI of enterprise software.
It’s already happening. The latest generation of data visualisation software is turning chart-making, and pattern discovery, into an everyday activity. It is possible to trawl through datasets without taking your hand of the mouse.
The rise of touchscreen laptops and mobiles will accelerate the trend. Applications written for these devices must have, by default fewer options, which are more clickable, than the sub-menu jungle of the PC era.
NB: It doesn’t automatically mean a drop-off in functionality. Intelligent design gives users the options they want. It prioritises most-used functions on the UI. It lets users learn as they go.
Retail websites have gone through this process of applification. The war for customers mean complexity was stripped out, in favour of simplicity and standardisation. Retailers realised they couldn’t hide the check-out basket, or demand seven click-throughs to find top selling products. Usability soared.
Applification will democratise Big Data analytics, address the UK’s productivity gap, and give software developers a vastly larger user base. Employees need it. Employers should demand it.
It’s an ugly neologism. True. But applification is an idea whose time has come.
Image credit: jasonahowie
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