Use of consumption apps in the enterprise

Before considering what software you need to build and support, understand the difference between transactional and consumption applications.

Use of consumption apps in the enterprise
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I was talking to a colleague the other day, and they made a statement that I found very interesting.

In enterprise IT organizations, only transactional applications are of any real importance.

I couldn’t disagree more.

Transactional applications are obviously extremely important to enterprise IT organizations. One viewpoint is that they are the backbone of most of the enterprise IT applications. But to say that the only types of applications that are important to the enterprise are transactional applications is missing an entire class of applications that is critical to modern businesses—consumption applications.

Consumption applications play an important role in most enterprise IT organizations. If you’re ignoring this class of applications, you’re missing an opportunity. Consumption apps should play an important role in how you think about, build, and maintain your enterprise applications.

Transactional apps vs. consumption apps

What is the difference between a transactional application and a consumption application?

A transactional application is an application that is designed to let you accomplish some task. This task might be as simple as checking on the location of a box being shipped, or sending a message to a friend or colleague. The application assists the user in accomplishing a goal—but the application is not, itself, the goal. A great example is a package tracking application that tells you where your package is and when it will be delivered. The application helps you get the information you desire.

A consumption application is an application designed to give you an experience in and of itself. You are doing something to or with the application and that “something” is the ultimate purpose. A great example is watching a movie on a streaming application. You may not have a specific goal in mind, other than perhaps being entertained or informed. But using the application itself gives the desired experience.

These are very broad application categories, but the distinction is extremely important. The way you build the applications and the specific goals your customers want to accomplish are radically different for each type of application.

Let’s look a bit deeper at examples of each of these. The FedEx package tracking application is a transactional application. Your goal in using the application is to find out where your package is and when you will get it. You want to get into the application quickly, find the information you are looking for, and leave the application as soon as the task is completed. You have better things to do than to hang out in a package tracking application all day. A user experience for an application like this might involve showing a list of outstanding packages on the home screen, giving you details of your most important package that’s coming, or sending you a notification when the status of one of your packages changes.

Now let’s compare that to a consumption application such as, for example, Netflix. Your goal when you use Netflix is to go into the application, look around for a show or movie you are interested in, then watch and enjoy the show. After the show is over, you may want to look for similar shows to find something else to watch. Your goal is to enjoy your experience within the application itself. You want an application that can help you find and watch the shows you are interested in. You want to be presented with options and alternatives, with ideas and suggestions, with content that’s engaging—all of this from within the application itself.

Differing goals and expectations

The customer expectation for these two types of applications is very different. Thus, the design criteria for the applications are different, and the infrastructure to support the customer use cases is also different. In general, the applications are different and how they are supported, managed, and operated in an IT organization are different.

Here are some specific goals you might consider for a transactional application:

  • Provide quick access to common functions. You want an interface that makes common actions and activities quick and easy to find and execute. The most-used features need to be front and center.
  • Remember what the customer wants to do. Often, when customers use a transactional application, they do many of the same things each time they use the application. The application should remember, replay, or at least enable easy repetition of common activities.
  • Remove unnecessary details and options. When customers are focused on a specific task, the last thing they want to see are advertisements or recommendations not directly related to their specific goal. Options and alternatives mean confusion. Confusion slows customers down.
  • Have all the details the customer wants. The corollary is that the display needs to have all the details and options your customers want immediately available. Everything they need should be visible to them in a compelling and intuitive format. Having to click around to get related information only slows customers down.
  • Get in and get out quickly. Customers want to get in and then get out of the application as quickly as possible. Anything you can do to help customers get information quickly and move on will be appreciated.
  • Work in the background. Customers will also appreciate any work the application can accomplish without their being actively engaged. Think about the FedEx tracking application. If there is a delay in delivery, customers would appreciate hearing about that as soon as possible, even if they weren’t thinking about the package and actively using the application. They don’t want to have to keep returning to the application for updates. They want the updates delivered automatically and asynchronously.

The goals for a consumption application are, in many ways, the opposite of the transactional application. For the consumption application, you might want to:

  • Decrease interface clutter. Make the interface clean and compelling to the eye. Make customers want to stay in the application and not leave.
  • Transition between content. Improve the ability for customers to move from the end of one piece of content to the beginning of another piece of content. Options and alternatives are important. Even commercials can be useful if they give recommendations on compelling content that customers may want to consume.
  • Include useful and related content. Examining customers’ usage patterns, show them related content and similar content that may be of interest to them. Find strategic ways to keep the customer engaged.
  • Provide options and alternatives. Give choices that allow your customers to decide what they want to do next. More options are better than fewer options.
  • Expand and broaden. Encourage wandering and browsing within your application. Provide efficient ways to search for and find new options and alternatives. Increase choices and selections, giving the customer options for how they explore your application. Browsing customers are engaged with your company.

The requirements for each of these two types of applications are different, based on the goals and customer expectations that go with the application. One requires quick in and out with short customer contact. Another requires a longer term connection with the customer. The infrastructure requirements for each application are also very different as a result, and this impacts the availability, scalability, and enterprise requirements for these applications.

Are consumption applications important to the enterprise?

Both transactional applications and consumption applications are popular among consumers of all types. The question is, though, what about the enterprise? Are both application types important to the enterprise, or is the enterprise interested only in transactional applications, as my colleague suggests?

Certainly, transactional applications are important to enterprise IT organizations. If you are an item picker in a warehouse, the application you use that shows you “what to pick next” is really the only application you care about most of the time. Tell me what item I need to get next, and then let me move on. This is a quintessential enterprise IT transactional application.

But what about consumption applications? Are they important at all to the enterprise, and hence their IT organizations?

The answer, of course, is absolutely. There are many consumption applications that are important to enterprise IT organizations. What are some examples?

Certainly, the one that easily comes to mind is training. The applications your company uses for training individuals on how to perform their jobs—or to meet certification requirements—can be considered consumption applications. You are consuming training material within an app. This is very similar to the Netflix example.

But there are many other consumption applications in the enterprise:

  • Video conferencing software. We are spending more and more of our interaction time with customers and colleagues inside of applications such as Zoom, Teams, and Webex. The video conferencing application is becoming a core tool for the modern enterprise.
  • Content creation software (such as word processors, spreadsheets, presentations). Many people spend much of their workday in these consumption applications that are mission critical to enterprise IT departments. And these aren’t just desktop applications anymore—some of the most popular and useful tools are SaaS applications, such as the Google office suite and Microsoft Office 365.
  • Strategic planning software. Executive management software, reporting, and analytics software often have consumption aspects to them.
  • Software development editors and tools. Our development organizations themselves make extensive use of consumption applications during their workday. Besides code management tools, there are code assistance tools and software management tools that operate as consumption applications.
  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software and tools. Sales and marketing personnel make extensive use of SaaS applications to manage their customer interactions and reporting.
  • Internal communications tools. Tools such as Slack, Google Workspace, and Microsoft Teams. Everyone in your organization uses these tools to communicate between members and other teams.
  • Content consumption applications. Tools such as news readers, blogs, wikis, and social media are not just for consumers, but also have an important role in the enterprise.

Some of these tools could arguably be considered either consumption or transactional. For example, let’s look at CRM software. You might use the software transactionally to quickly enter notes on a customer meeting. Or you might use it as a consumption application as you do analysis and reporting on the trends of the sales organization or customer segment.

But regardless, applications that are important to the enterprise IT organization are not just transactional applications, many of them are consumption applications.

Many of these applications may be built by the enterprise IT organization, many may be bought externally and brought into the organization. But the make or buy decision is irrelevant. The software—and hence the long-term management and operation of that software—is what is important to the enterprise IT organization.

As you consider the types of software your enterprise IT organization needs to build and support, don’t make assumptions that are limiting. Make sure to understand all of the needs and requirements of your organization. Your customers will appreciate you.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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