Tech austerity will make work simple

Just like we reserve our best cutlery for our guests, organisations have tended to reserve the best user experience for applications used by their customers



By Shalini Verma

Published: Wed 29 Jul 2020, 12:08 PM

Last updated: Wed 29 Jul 2020, 2:12 PM

The American transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau conducted a two-year experiment in the mid-nineteenth century. In an era when rail tracks and telegraph lines were being constructed, he built a log cabin by a pond in the woods and lived there for two years. His life experiment led him to strongly advocate that we simplify our lives and weigh our life choices consciously, rather than succumbing to our habits and social pressures.
We have declared our new pandemic ideals as reset and simplify. Some of us are baking our own bread in the spirit of going back to basics. Thoreau's advice provided in 1850s make even more sense today. His beliefs have valuable lessons for resetting our complex tech life, especially applications we use for work.
Just like we reserve our best cutlery for our guests, organisations have tended to reserve the best user experience for applications used by their customers.
Business applications for internal folks or employees always lagged behind in terms of user experience. The business applications for managing workforce, reporting sales, submitting claims, making purchases were labyrinthine, slow and difficult to use.
The industry as a whole was to share the blame. Tools for building business applications were restrictive. I was once horrified to see that one such tool allowed just three color choices for developers to use. I am sure you have used that painful application with rows and rows of fields that needed filling. When Thoreau referred to the illusion of modern advancements, this is precisely what he meant.
Over the past several years, the millennials who came to work, sneaked in simpler cloud-based apps like Dropbox. The project management tools they preferred were more visual. In true Thoreau style, they started to make conscious choices and assert their freedom from unwieldy applications offered by internal IT. This nearly created an existential crisis for internal IT teams. The gap between the experience of customer facing and employee facing applications needed to be narrowed. A quiet revolution has been underway.
Taking a cue from the likes of Amazon and Netflix, large organizations are addressing the fundamentals. They are redesigning the application architecture and refactoring their monolithic applications into a bunch of microservices. Each microservice addresses a single business function. This allows them to pinpoint exactly where the issue is and improve on it without derailing the entire application.
While banks, retail, travel and government organisations are modernizing their applications, it is worth taking Thoreau's advice to simplify the experience by decluttering the applications. He suggests that we first consider the bare necessities that we simply cannot do without and then rid ourselves of everything else that we can do without. Thoreau said that he had three chairs in his cabin - one for solitude, two for friendship, three for Covid-19 has presented an opportunity to correct the past wrongs. Hapless remote workers are expected to fill out elaborate reports on their day's work. No doubt these are needed in large organizations to track productivity. However, these reports on productivity need not be a drain on productivity. Time-tracking tools should not be time consuming. Thoreau regretted a life 'frittered away by detail'. Organisations addressing the new needs of remote workers can certainly follow this cue to rigorously prioritise functionalities. The demand for remote work during Covid-19 has accelerated large enterprises' move to cloud services. Cloud companies have reported a seven-fold jump in cloud service usage in Covid-19 hot spots. While large enterprises chalk out their migration plans, they may as well conduct a spring cleaning of their applications. This enlightened austerity will help businesses not just reduce costs but also improve productivity.
While we don't need to disappear into the woods to become a hermit, we can certainly bring some of the hermit spirit into our work. The applications we use for work need to bring back minimalism in our tech life to free up time to deliberate on new business opportunities. Thoreau stayed in the log cabin to 'live deliberately'. Modernisation of business applications must help us work deliberately.
Shalini Verma is CEO of PIVOT technologies


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