The Problem and Solution of Using Many Web Applications
[date-stamp]We all use Google or Bing (some also use DuckDuckGo) these days, but have we ever thought of why we use these tools? To find things, of course. However, do you think you can find everything with those tools? Hmm, maybe we can't. Things that are stored in web applications are generally not available through the major web search engines. I say generally, since Google+ and Facebook are searchable through Google. However, other than that, data in web applications are invisible to the major search engines.
What is the problem?
Most Web applications have a search functionality. Nevertheless, it is sometimes rather shallow (like in Dropbox, where you can only search in filenames) or omits important things (like in Zendesk, where content in attachments is not searchable at all). So when using a set of web applications every day, how do we locate things? True, a set of strict guidelines for all employees may ensure that most information is stored in the "correct" location. My experience, however, is that such rules collapse over time, or they become a strait jacket for your colleagues and employees.
Many people bring their own devices to work (BYOD), but an increasing amount also bring their own applications to work (BYOA). When you use Dropbox to store your files and photos for yourself, it is a small step to start using Dropbox to store company files and information as well. If you're a developer, you could incorporate Dropbox as a cloud storage in the application you're working on. There are many ways outside web applications can get into a company’s set of web applications, often without the knowledge or consent of the IT person in charge.
The result may be a mix of many different web applications, and the chaos may be complete. Where is the stuff? Not one single person can tell you that, but if you ask around, you may at least get an overview of the web applications being used in your company. You can go into each of these and search, but that's time-consuming. Moreover, the search capabilities in each web application may not be that good, as the examples for Dropbox and Zendesk above shows. So what to do?
Why is it important to know where your company's data is stored? One reason is to find things you need in your day-to-day job, but how is your company going to be able to see trends when it comes to its customers and products when things are scattered so much? Now that is a real challenge. In order to get an edge over your competitors, knowing everything there is worth knowing about your existing customers and products, (i.e. which sales channels are most profitable and which marketing campaigns generate the most bang for the buck) is not just nice to know. It is information like this that enables your company to become a data-driven company, where facts and trends are at the core of business decisions. If you want an edge over your competitors, do what big companies do in this regard. Many big companies do not take a single decision without data to back up that decision because knowing the whole picture is the best way to make decisions.
What is the solution?
The success of Google’s internet-search clearly shows that we want a simple-to-use, powerful search tool that enables us to find information in places we hardly knew existed. Simple-to-use, since the learning curve must be gentle for a new tool to have a wide adoption, and powerful since we want to find information regardless of location, file format, database, web application and whatever. We just want to be able to find things-so something that covers most web applications in the same way Google covers most web sites on the internet.
Does such a tool exist? One that covers most web applications in use by businesses today? Since there are hundreds, if not thousands of web applications out there, the answer is "not yet". There are companies working on such solutions, and some of the most widely used web applications are covered in such solutions. Like Dropbox, Zendesk and Exchange, which are covered by the Coxito product, which I am working on. The need for such a tool is clearly there, in the same way as the need for a simple-to-use and powerful search tool for the internet was there some years ago. The trend towards moving business-critical applications to the cloud in the shape of web applications leads to increased demand for more business-oriented solutions for web applications as well. Some of those solutions are a way to easily find things you need in your job and analyze data in order to see what is really going on with your business. Did you know that 40% of your incoming support requests comes from only 12% of your customers? Did you know that the new marketing campaign has only increased sales with 2% compared with the old campaign? Did you know that 60% of the emails you send go to your colleagues?
There are many things worth knowing, both on the company level and on the employee level. Both contribute to the success of the company as a whole, so spotting trends early enables you to act on them as well. Do your customers give feedback that is more positive on your product now compared with three months ago? Ok, then you know the changes you have done in the last two months have been successful.
Knowing what's going on enables you and your company to make better decisions. This is one of the most valuable things with insight into your data; you can correct the course and make changes based on what your data tells you. You have all this data and keep it for years, so why not use it for something useful? :-)