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Why buy a platform if there’s an app?

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Nathan Nayagar, MD of Lexmark South Africa & English-speaking Africa, explains why “DIY IT” isn’t all that it seems.
Just a decade ago, the term “knowledge worker” denoted only a small contingent of employees within most organisations. Over the years, as more areas of business were enabled with information systems, more and more users entered this information stream, learning to leverage new sources of information to make their work more informed and relevant.
Today, knowledge workers constitute as much as 82% of your workforce.  Equipped with modern productivity tools, they create, gather and manage a wealth of business information in your organisation.
This army of knowledge workers is changing our perception of how enterprise software should be developed and delivered. Faced with managing the ever-growing variety and volume of content – ranging from office documents to video and images -users struggle to find internal tools that are up to the task and fit their work styles. They seek to have at work the same experience they have with content outside of work – social, connected environments where their content is available across a wide range of devices, social networks and applications.
The quick and easy solution seems to be to do what they would do outside of work – find a third-party app or service that can get the job done.
Thanks in large part to the availability and maturity of third-party cloud services, BYOD has evolved in many organisations into DIY-IT, with users relying on a fleet of external devices and applications to manage work-related email, tasks and files. In fact, the trend has moved beyond individual users to entire departments and business groups. A recent study of cloud services adoption found that 61% of business units completely bypass the IT department and select, purchase and manage cloud services on their own.
Having been through many enterprise software buying cycles, I can absolutely empathise with the business group managers who choose to go the DIY route – after all, the typical enterprise software buying experience is anything but quick and easy. The rounds of RFPs, vendor interviews and demos require the involvement of stakeholders from across the organisation, including IT, operations and procurement. The selection process alone can stretch to several months, and the subsequent budget approvals, deployment and integration likely last several more. I don’t know many department managers who would say they can wait half a year to fill today’s technology need.
So, the appeal of these readily available cloud apps is easy to understand – they are cheap (or even free), quick to set up, and they provide an instant fix to the daily content workflow needs. They are, however, not designed with the enterprise in mind, and as a result, this DIY approach exposes the organisation to significant risks:
* Security and compliance: Taking confidential business and customer data outside the corporate firewall demands stringent security and compliance considerations. When access to business data is given to consumer-grade devices and services, protection, governance and e-discovery become an even more difficult task, especially when IT is not in the loop.
* Integration and extensibility: Business information creates the most value when it is available in the context of core business processes. Without the ability to integrate with business systems and workflows, the less sophisticated cloud apps actually compound the enterprise content problem, creating disparate silos of information. Designed to provide consumer-grade, one-size-fits-all service, most of these cloud apps do not provide the frameworks for integration or development of solutions that fit your business processes.
* Business continuity: Existing outside the corporate authentication and identity management protocols, consumer cloud apps create an additional challenge when employees leave the company. The ad-hoc processes they had created to fit the cloud app into their business workflows will likely be lost, leaving the business with a void.
The success of cloud apps highlights the evolving demands of the modern knowledge workers who rely on flexible and portable productivity tools with ubiquitous access to information that matters to them. However, the lack of enterprise-grade features in these cloud apps creates more challenges than they solve. With the volume of business information growing at a rate of 40% per year, this problem is not going to just go away, as more and more users and departments seek solutions that will help them manage this sea of big content.
To meet the requirements of both the users and the enterprise, a company must look to a unified information platform. Supporting the deployment of “apps” or solutions at departmental levels, the information platform also offers additional benefits across the enterprise:
* Relevance and context: A unified information platform enables tightly integrated intelligent solutions that are aware of each other and the business processes. Relevant business information can be made accessible from enterprise devices and applications, adding instant value to your business processes by helping your knowledge workers work faster and smarter.
* Security and compliance: Whether on the premises or in the cloud, an enterprise-class platform provides standards-based security and minimises compliance risks to sensitive business information.
* Any content, anywhere: A modern information platform must manage all unstructured content in the organisation, from office documents to videos and multimedia, regardless of where they reside.
* Consistent user experience:  Leveraging integration with enterprise applications as well as a uniform client interface framework, the platform provides knowledge workers with a consistent user experience across devices and systems.
* Agile platform for growth: Emphasis on modularity, integration and extensibility translates to flexible solutions that fit business needs and faster time to value.
While stand-alone cloud apps may be great for doing one or two things, an enterprise information platform proves that the whole can truly being larger than the sum of its parts, providing real business value today and capacity to meet future needs. Your company’s ability to derive value from business information is becoming a major competitive factor, directly contributing to business intelligence, process improvement and customer experience management. Build it on the right foundation.