Can enterprise IT keep up?

As part of the Pistoia Alliance Debates webinar series, a motivated collection of Pistoia members and friends recently came together to explore the accelerating advances in consumer technology, and discuss how these changes were altering the use of technology in the enterprise.

In the consumer world there are many examples of how technologies such as Uber, mobile banking, mobile airline check-in and Facebook enable people to seamlessly perform everyday tasks. Each of these activities once required making phone calls, printing documentation or moving data from one device to another – now all is available in a few swipes of a mobile phone. In Silicon Valley it is common for software designers to discuss how they can delight their users, with user centric design is at the core of the new start-ups.

For many of the same technology consumers the experience of enterprise technology is very different. The tools we use in our working life for managing such things as projects, holidays, expenses, and timesheets do not often delight us as much as the seamless experience of Uber. A remote working environment has been enabled on laptop devices but not yet to mobile devices, which is frustrating for an increasingly flexible work force.

The Pistoia Alliance Debates webinar aimed to analyse the principals that are making consumer software successful and help the life sciences R&D community prioritise its investment decisions in deployment of enterprise technology. The discussion highlighted three trends that underpin some of the best consumer technology experiences.

1. Identity

When setting up a mobile app it remembers who you are so you can connect with the apps servers in a streamlined way. This ranges from caching log-on credentials for a remote server to (in the case of mobile banking) multi-factor authentication. Once configured this identity persists so that the app can automatically recall your profile and preferences.

Mobile applications are designed to work on the open internet, however corporate practices will use firewalling to provide a layer of protection from malicious attacks. Virtual private networks enable the firewall to be extended to computers using untrusted networks, in essence building a layer of trust for a user on a specific system, but this approach does not go as far as including mobile devices. In essence the corporate firewall does not yet extend readily to a mobile phone, thus preventing mobile access to protected systems from outside the workplace.

2. Sensors

Consumer apps have taken advantage of another capability provided by mobile phones – the built-in sensor package. A modern smartphone will include two cameras, a microphone, GPS, a compass, an accelerometer, and some will even include biometrics sensors such as fingerprint readers The most delightful consumer applications use these sensors to provide the phone information that traditionally you would have to manually enter, such as your location or the route you have taken. This approach to technology is not yet being exploited in many enterprise environments.

3. Optimised workflows

A third feature that has been baked into many consumer apps is the focus on enabling specific workflows. This is reflected in enterprise software that is organised around the notion of “transactions” for requesting holidays, approving purchase requests, signing electronic laboratory notebooks, and other such tasks. Such workflow management tools are instrumental to the flow of business in a large organisation. But where the consumer applications really win is the ability to link all the key transactions that their users need in order to complete an entire job or unit of work in a single tool. This focus on completing a job in one place instead of accomplishing a series of tasks in several different tools was described as optimising workflows.

Based on this analysis a poll was taken to measure the priorities of the participants of the debate. The results, shown below, clearly articulate that many people feel that solution providers should be looking at how to provide more integrated user experiences that enable people to perform their job more effectively.

highest priority

In the second part of the debate we moved from software to hardware and briefly explored the current cutting and bleeding edge consumer technologies that are available. The conversation covered new mobile phone capabilities to smart watches and the emerging renaissance in virtual and augmented reality.

The debate in this area focused on which, if any, of these technologies could provide benefits to the the drug discovery R&D community.

focusing on

Putting this this discussion to the participants of the debate we saw that the community felt that mobile technologies were still the priority area, but interestingly, although the numbers were small, virtual reality technology was seen as more of a priority that smart watches.

Coming out of the debate, the key takeaway message for a technology provider is that there is most benefit in continuing to optimise the user experience in common routine transactions that they have to process as part of their daily work, and in particular to move this experience to mobile phones. One potential idea could be an approval and authorisation aggregation platform whereby different requests for approval from different underlying systems can be aggregated into one mobile app that enables the approvers to see a unified list of activities to sign off or reject.

Posted in Pistoia Alliance Blog.

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