Employees to lead adoption of biz version apps

Despite advantages of business version of consumer apps, adoption will be mainly driven by individual staff before the company jumps on the bandwagon and adopt the service enterprise-wide.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

As the line fades between professional and personal use of free consumer apps for productivity tasks such as note taking and file sharing, adoption will likely remain among individual staff, unless the paid enterprise version offers sufficient features critical in daily running of the business across the whole company.

Globally and in Asia, IT consumerization and bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trends have made it hard to distinguish between enterprise and individual use of productivity apps, said Rachel Lashford, managing director of mobile for Asia-Pacific at Canalys.

"Usage of mobile devices and apps [in work and personal lives] has converged…so as the lines blur, enterprise features of a consumer app may be a misnomer," she pointed out. For instance, an employee may use Evernote on his mobile phone to note down vacation packages as well as hotel prices for an upcoming business trip, she said.

At its conference last month, Evernote gave a glimpse of the enterprise version of its note-taking application called Evernote Business which will launch this December. The subscription service comes with added features, administrative controls and a support helpdesk.

Lashford emphasized that at the office, end users typically only care whether their apps work, and not bother about security and access management concerns--which are issues their company's IT management team faces.

Hence, for now and the immediate future, it will be individual users, not businesses, that will drive uptake of productivity apps, including the paid enterprise version if users think it is worth the price, the analyst noted.

The question, then, is whether companies will let their employees expense those subscriptions, she added. "It is hard to imagine, say, small or midsize businesses [willing to] pay when they're used to free tools, unless these are critical for day-to-day running of the business."

Eric Koh, CTO of Singapore's JobsCentral Group, said the company will consider adopting paid enterprise versions of consumer services it uses "if the price justifies the additional benefits".

The company currently allows employees to use paid apps of their own choosing, and make claims for it based on work purposes, he said.

The growing popularity of productivity apps in the consumer space makes it inevitable that users want to use the same services at their office, said Shaun Di Gregorio, CEO of Malaysia-based iProperty Group, whose staff use apps such as Evernote and Dropbox.

iProperty has invested in enterprise versions because it makes sense to do so when a particular service moves from being niche for a few people to a core part of everyday productivity, Di Gregorio explained.

The company previously had only a few staff members using social networking tool Yammer internally. "We found it useful and so agreed to adopt it organization-wide and upgraded to the enterprise version to get full support and more features," the CEO said.

Benefits versus barriers
Ben Cavender, associate principal at China Market Research Group (CMR), highlighted that enterprise versions of productivity apps will see more user adoption in Asia if they offer a cost-effective and "good enough" software solution.

"For companies that do not necessarily want to pay a premium for greater customization, this will be an attractive route", he explained.

He said given that employees are already comfortable using consumer apps, companies in this region would potentially be more open to staff upgrading to enterprise versions.

The shift is not without drawbacks, though, the analyst cautioned. The so-called business version may not necessarily offer the level of security or integration enterprises need for them to be truly useful in company-wide setting, Cavendar said.

Compared to enterprise vendors, most consumer productivity apps also do not have a track record of established software suites designed for companies in mind, nor a level of after-sale support to help iron out any issues such as downtime, integration and customization, he added.

Koh agreed that deployment will be more complicated due to security and the less amount of control IT departments have over the application. But because it is an enterprise version, there is also a proper service level agreement (SLA) besides the added features, he said.

For Di Gregorio, the main benefit of deploying an enterprise version is the ability to standardize and provide the same service to everyone in the company. It would be difficult to collaborate effectively if some staff used tools that others did not, he pointed out.

Nonetheless, there is also the challenge of first championing the use of the service across the organization and training staff who are new to the service or had used alternatives previously, he noted.

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