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Controlling the Sprawl – It’s All About Engagement

April 18, 2017 by Michael Affronti

According to a recent report from App Annie, the app economy’s future is bright. Worldwide gross consumer spend is forecast to surpass $139B in 2021. With these major gains anticipated over the next four years alone, it’s no wonder that “there’s an app for that” continues to prevail. The more the merrier, right?

People accept the fact that there are apps designed for specific purposes, and that downloading and installing more isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, they most likely prefer it, particularly if the apps are engaging and serve their intended purpose.

That’s all well and good on the consumer end of the spectrum, but when you apply this widely accepted belief to the enterprise, it’s a different story. Just 10-15 years ago we found ourselves at the threshold of IT consumerization. Leaders were scrambling to find the tools needed to make workers happier and more productive, but unfortunately very few entrepreneurial souls looked inward at their solutions to understand the challenges and find opportunities to innovate.

As the desktop gave way to mobile and apps rose in popularity, we found ourselves saying “there’s 10-20 apps for that.” While everyone first thought the proliferation of apps would ultimately lead to clarity, the sprawl has created a new set of challenges. IT leaders assumed employees would only use solutions the enterprise deployed, but the App Economy has turned that assumption on its head. This “we’ll use what we want” mentality may be empowering to the end user, but it’s also creating tension inside companies interested in migrating toward a more unified communications platform.

Admittedly, apps have a low barrier-to-entry and for the most part are good at what they do. What end users don’t realize, however, is that while apps may function well independently, they don’t necessarily work well in concert. This typically forces workarounds that drain efficiency in the long run. From a management standpoint, you’re looking at productivity loss and the need to manage, secure, and control multiple apps instead of just one. Quite often, companies don’t see these issues on the surface. In fact, it’s not until we show them that the conversation then shifts to one of efficiency. And therein lies the opportunity.

Our latest research study, Breaking Barriers 2020, revealed that the top productivity threat facing IT leaders comes in the form of application sprawl: workers navigating between tools and devices to share, connect, and communicate. Interestingly, the average number of tools provided by IT departments was four – four video conferencing apps, four calling apps, and four messaging apps. That’s a lot of apps! But while 67 percent of IT leaders are actively looking to reduce application sprawl, the same leaders signaled a common concern: existing communication systems are too complex and difficult to manage.

The report also found that 76 percent of IT leaders believe the success of new technology depends on employee satisfaction. As the workforce becomes more generationally diverse, IT leaders must think of end users as technology consumers rather than employees. This will require investing in technology that offers consumer-like experiences and ensuring that core tenets – simplicity and usability – carry through across those investments.

People want fun apps. Leaders want single apps. Where’s the middle ground? For the average organization, it’s first realizing that there is a problem. Workers are downloading as they please and leaders are facing security breaches and productivity threats. For the more tech-forward companies, end users take it a step further, telling IT leaders they’re going elsewhere because the provided tools are just not engaging or ergonomic. These organizations are aware of the problem but don’t yet have the right solution.

No matter where you are with embracing  adoption or containing app sprawl, it behooves you as an IT leader or CIO to create good experiences. Good experiences generate positive engagements. Positives engagements encourage adoption. And adoption is what will help contain the sprawl. That sums up the problem space: if you invest in the best solution right from the beginning, your teams will be happier and you’ll have an easier job in the long run.

One of the key insights from our report is that emotional engagement in the workplace is critically important among employees. As the enterprise increasingly decentralizes and the workforce becomes increasingly distributed, communication is what tethers your teams together. Elegant experiences help CIOs drive down attrition, drive up usability, and in turn engender more positive, productive work environments. And by simplifying IT infrastructures, reducing the number of applications, and providing workers with easy-to-use, single-app alternatives, leaders can dramatically transition IT from an operational function to a driver of innovation and fresh approaches.

Simply stated: if “there’s an app for that,” then make sure it’s the right one for your business. Don’t know where to turn? Start with our CIO Cloud Champion Checklist for taking charge of digital transformation in your organization.



Michael Affronti
Michael Affronti
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