The category of enterprise software has morphed to include any software that people working in companies might pay for, say experts Image Credit: Agencies

Gone are the days when office automation meant optimising email networks and printer setups. A technological tsunami has hit the enterprise space and companies are now exploring everything from mobile apps and social networks to BYOD and cloud computing.

In fact, what constitutes enterprise software has itself become rather fuzzy. As writer Sarah Lacy notes on tech news site PandoDaily, “Enterprise used to mean software that was sold to large corporations or governments. Today, the category seems to have morphed to include any software that people who happen to work at companies might pay for.”

We look at some of the major trends impacting the workplace.

The leap to Meap

Why buy a third-party app when you can build one just for your company? Making this possible are advances in Mobile Enterprise Application Platforms (Meap), where any company can build and deploy apps that work across multiple devices and networks.

A case in study is Coca Cola. With more than 5,000 employees travelling globally, the company spent more than $500 million (about Dh1.84 billion) on travel in 2012. It had an internal travel tool to enforce policies and reduce costs but logging in from remote locations was not always possible. So this year Coca Cola developed an app for smartphones that replicates the travel tool. It works on Android, iOS and BlackBerry, and all data is locally cached for situations where there is no internet. Apparently, adoption by employees is near 100 per cent and savings in travel expenses mean the development costs have been easily recouped.

Building apps for enterprise use has never been easier and Infiniti Research forecasts the Meap market will be worth $1.6 billion in 2014.

Social enterprises

Why not have a social network just for the company? A mini-Facebook, if you will. This idea seems to have taken off in recent years and ABI Research believes that globally the enterprise social collaboration sector will reach $3.5 billion by 2016, up from just under $1 billion in 2012. The key driver is workers enjoying and benefitting from these technologies.

Yammer, a social enterprise app that Microsoft bought for $1.2 billion, claims its sales have tripled since the purchase. Also in the fray are apps such as Chatter, Socialcast, Asana, Hall and Jive. Tibbr claims to have amassed about 1.5 million paid users in its two years of existence. And, given the trend of BYOD, these apps are increasingly available on different mobile platforms. Companies are even combining social media and gamification by implementing reward elements such as badges and points. Gartner estimates that by 2014, around 70 per cent of the Global 2000 businesses will have at least one gamified app or system.

Dmitry Valyanov, CEO, Bitrix24, however, believes a few wrinkles still need to be ironed out. In a Venture Beats post, he says: “Yammer’s status page shows a major network-wide problem at least once every month, and others simply chose not to have status pages. If you want us to use your software, it actually has to work first.” The typical corporate employee has been exposed to networking tools like LinkedIn, DropBox and Skype for years now and “they don’t expect less when they move to enterprise services.”

On to the cloud

Almost 30 years ago, John Gage of Sun Microsystems coined the famous phrase “the network is the computer”, and this is fast becoming a reality. And not just for data storage, cloud virtualisation or Software as a Service (SaaS). The latest addition is Platform as a Service (PaaS). Gartner estimates that by 2016, 40 per cent of mobile application projects will leverage cloud back-end services.

Bart Copeland, CEO, ActiveState, blogs on ReadWrite: “In the PaaS world, 2013 will be a year of rapid application deployment. Enterprise PaaS adapters will see their cloud application deployment cycles reduced from weeks or months to just minutes.” He adds that in two years, cloud adapters will take this speed-to-market for granted. “As a result, enterprise cloud adapters will evaluate PaaS technology not just for how it accelerates workflow, but for how it impacts the bottom line.” Copeland believes that PaaS will eventually get folded under hybrid or a mix of on site and cloud. Saugatuck Technologies suggests that by 2016, 75 per cent or more of new enterprise IT spend will be on cloud or hybrid.

This raises all kinds of control and security issues, especially when potentially sensitive data is uploaded to the cloud. Gordon Van Huizen, Research Director, Gartner, says, “An organisation may begin using them without first developing the requisite understanding of issues and risks associated with employing cloud services for application infrastructure. What’s needed, then, is a crash course in the fundamental concerns of deploying application functionality in the cloud.”

BYOD and BYOT

BYOD or Bring Your Own Device is radically changing the way corporates handle data and devices. A Gartner global survey estimates 38 per cent of companies will completely stop providing devices to employees by 2016. David Willis, Vice-President and Analyst, Gartner, says, “BYOD strategies are the most radical change to the economics and culture of client computing in business in decades.” Its benefits include “creating new mobile workforce opportunities, increasing employee satisfaction and reducing or avoiding costs”.

Gartner estimates that 1.2 billion smartphones and tablets will be sold this year, up 50 per cent on 2012. And the practice of letting employees bring in devices they prefer to work on could be extended to computers and other smart devices, an idea referred to as BYOT or Bring Your Own Technology. Willis believes the enterprise should subsidise only the service plan on a smartphone: “Keep it simple. The employee owns the device, and the company helps to cover usage costs.”

This will bring with it challenges of keeping corporate data secure and ensuring applications work across devices.

Unified communications

At Enterprise Connect 2013, held in Orlando, USA, the unified communications (UC) tech that generated the maximum buzz was WebRTC or Web Real Time Collaboration, which promises to hook up employees anytime, anywhere, with the enterprise. Instead of using dedicated apps, plugins or hardware, you can make voice and video calls straight from your web browser. Firefox and Chrome already support a rudimentary implementation of WebRTC. Expect it to become ubiquitous, especially with Google attempting serious inroads with WebRTC by integrating it into the Google Apps Suite.

The company claims the suite is already being used by five million businesses worldwide.

Elsewhere at the show, Microsoft showcased the Lync mobile and Smart Room system that leverages mobile devices, Alcatel-Lucent and Avaya launched tools leveraging cloud communications and Dolby came with a superior audio conferencing solution.