The Boundless Opportunities in Business Productivity Apps


The modern day business has come a long way in leveraging technology to enable global-scale collaboration, real-time communication, data-driven decision making, and so much more. Business software has been one of the biggest benefactors of all of the recent innovation waves, including cloud computing, big data, and mobile.

Yet despite this there remains an incredible amount of opportunity to disrupt business productivity through the continued challenges in our workday that hold us back from achieving our collective full potential. To help illustrate this, let me showcase ten pain points I face every day that remain opportunities for innovation.

1. Passwords, passwords, and more passwords
While enterprise authentication has seen technology innovation through single sign-on solutions that limit the number of passwords we need to remember, there remains significant opportunity for improvement. For example, our company implements a fairly standard 90-day password rotation policy. Needless to say mere mortals like myself end up forgetting this constantly changing password from time to time or writing it down somewhere which limits it's security. Even despite these policies there have been password breaches at many of the largest technology firms through social engineering, phishing schemes, and other common means. While two-factor authentication has certainly increased protections against this, they have added yet another level of friction in enabling access to business applications. It's time to disrupt passwords and invent a much simpler and more secure scheme for authentication.

2. The hassles of scheduling meetings
Much of my time during the day is spent in meetings with colleagues. Yet the tools for scheduling these meetings remain fairly outdated. Simple tasks like finding available conference rooms are a hassle. Suggesting alternative times has fairly inconsistent tool support. Scheduling meetings while on the go from my mobile device remain painful. I can't remember how many times I've said I'd schedule something when I got back to my desk. It's time to stop dumbing down our calendaring solutions to the lowest common denominator to solve for broad support and instead focus on taking away the significant friction that exists in the most common meeting scheduling tasks.

3. The hiccups in video conferencing
Video conferencing has been a major boon to global communication and enabling more intimate collaboration environments. Yet I continue to experience hiccups in scheduling web and video conferences, in the time it takes to get the video conference properly setup once in the meeting, and during meetings to ensure the presenter can fluidly move back and forth between various participants, screens, and shared documents. We need to get video conferencing to the point where it's as easy as making a phone call.

4. Not readily having employee phone numbers
Speaking of phone calls, it still boggles my mind that when I join a company, my mobile phone book isn't automatically upgraded with effortless access to every employee's number. I still find myself not having colleague phone numbers every so often and having to look them up through our corporate directory. While LDAP and Exchange GAL provide partial solutions, it's not nearly as effortless as it should be and doesn't automatically hook into my caller id to identify incoming calls. There should be an easy way during new employee orientation to get every employee up and running with the corporate phone book.

5. Friction in capturing work items
While present day work item and bug tracking software provide significantly powerful capabilities for product managers like myself, they still generally have way too much friction for end users looking to capture work items. The number of required fields remain daunting, questions for which you may not have the answer to are intimidating, and it's all too easy for the end user to simply punt on entering the work item in favor of emailing it to someone or just forgetting about it entirely. We need to find solutions that enable powerful reporting but don't come at the cost of requiring significant data entry.

6. The cost of collaborating on documents
Document collaboration remains a rich space of innovation for startups, though the current widely adopted solutions leave lots of room for improvement. I still find myself all too often resorting to email to share suggested edits. While text documents have seen the greatest support for in-line comments, suggested edits, and reviewing, other forms of media like presentations and mockups have limited or non-existent support. We need to bring document collaboration to the point of which email is no longer the simplest solution.

7. Endless email
Speaking of email, I like many others am endlessly drowning in a deluge of email. And for the most part it because it ends up being a dumping ground for all the above scenarios that are woefully under-supported by our current tooling. So much of my workflow ends up in the form of unstructured emails, including meeting scheduling discussions, potential bugs and work items, exchange of contact information, suggested document edits, an active to do list, and more. We need to bring email back to being primarily a communication tool and not the lowest common denominator workflow tool it has become.

8. Not knowing who to talk to
When first on-boarding at any company, we all spend an inordinate time learning who are the right people we should talk to in order to help accomplish our goals. Whether it's experts to learn from, resources to collaborate with, or owners of various products and technology, there is inevitably a laundry list of folks we have to know to get things done. Like most organizations, we do this by asking our managers and our peers for this information. Yet it's a wholly inefficient way to do this. Technology should easily support enabling an easily searchable corporate directory to find the right person for the task at hand.

9. Remembering institutional knowledge
An organization maintains a significant amount of institutional knowledge that it leverages every time it makes a decision. For example, the value in a product is not simply the end result, but the countless choices that were made and rejected to get to that point. As we pass projects to other people or on-board new employees, we have to constantly train them on this corpus of institutional knowledge. It inevitably ends up being a highly lossy process, with much of the early thinking lost in the transfer. While today we rely heavily on the continuity of talent to solve for this, technology should offer alternative solutions that reduce this dependence and enable effortless capture and access to institutional knowledge.

10. Inefficiency in matching projects with passions and skills
I'm a strong believer that the output of information workers is highly variable depending on the conditions in which they find themselves working. Creative work is a different beast than the industrial work of the past and requires different optimization techniques from say six sigma style best practices. I believe one of the best ways to do this is by appropriately matching the passions and skills of a team member to the projects they are assigned. Yet there remains significant inefficiency in discovery of passions and skills and the efficient allocation to priority projects. While some tech firms try to unlock talent potential through hack days and 20% time, I believe this more efficient project assignment would unlock significantly more potential for the company.

Some might suggest there exist technology solutions to some of these problems already. And while I would agree with that, broad adoption of these solutions remain a challenge, creating equal opportunity not simply in solving these pains, but in developing innovative growth strategies that do enable these technologies to reach critical mass.

The future remains bright for business productivity apps and I can't wait to see the continued innovation that will solve these and many other pain points to enable us to achieve our collective full potential.
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