When I look at the primary trends driving technology and the creation of new tools, I’m struck by the progress being made toward simplicity.
The decades that shaped the computing landscape were largely marked by increasing complexity. Applications became bloated as their creators tried to do everything for everybody, and suppliers of competing platforms generally resisted working with each other. End users suffered as a result, as application bloat made it made it harder for individuals to accomplish tasks, and a lack of interoperability posed a serious challenge to collaboration across dissimilar environments.
We have entered an era in which technology is doing a much better job of serving its users. Improvements are largely the result of simplicity, driven by both end-user and enterprise demand.
Computing for individuals demands more simplicity than ever
Some of this progress stems from the way individuals now spread their work over multiple platforms – office computer, home computer, and mobile devices. End users are no longer willing to put up with one solution that tries to please everyone on one platform, then master a different solution that tries to do too much on a different platform.
Simple solutions that are intuitive are now the sweet spot, and “ease of use” means simplicity in accomplishing tasks regardless of the environment and device of the moment. Applications have become much more focused on delivering a unified customer experience, and users gain increased productivity as a result. They also tend to simply like the solutions they’re using more when they feel intuitive across platforms.
… and the enterprise has an even more pressing need for simplicity
Simplicity vs. complexity becomes an ever thornier topic when applied to an entire enterprise, particularly one involved in M&A activity. Whenever companies merge or are acquired, integrating the enterprise technology environment onto a single computing platform is particularly challenging. It’s also critical for productivity, as the newly combined workforce needs an environment in which all of its tools interoperate and work holistically throughout the organization.
In M&A situations, people will tend to favor heritage systems over acquirer systems. That’s natural; once you’ve mastered an application, even a clumsy one, the learning curve is gone. But no enterprise benefits when different user groups are on different email systems, collaboration systems, storage platforms, etc. The faster all users get onto a single platform, the better. That doesn’t mean everyone’s going to be happy, at least not at first, but the enterprise will benefit tremendously when it picks one platform and consolidates there. It can then work to get the most of what it’s looking for, at lower cost and with less budget. It helps when platforms interoperate easily and work homogeneously. Plug-ins that link separate platforms can go a long way toward fostering data flow consistent with workflow.
Eating our own cooking
For example, Windstream runs on an Office 365 platform in the Microsoft Cloud, and we use our own OfficeSuite platform for unified communications. OfficeSuite has a plug-in to Microsoft’s Skype platform, which enables our OfficeSuite and Office 365 to interoperate very well. We can point to our own solution as proof of workability, and to our associates for end-user satisfaction.
Standardizing on OfficeSuite and Skype has greatly simplified collaboration for us. In our conference calls, you’ll find many participants leveraging low-cost broadband by calling in with Skype and VoIP. Those who must dial in from wireless phones or non-Windstream office phone can use OfficeSuite. Switching from one to the other is highly intuitive.
As we continue to “eat our own cooking,” we’re continuously pushing the envelope on our OfficeSuite platform. When customers have questions about OfficeSuite, we speak from direct experience as one of its largest users, with more than 1,200 employees routinely connecting with it and 5,000 more soon. While this has meant a learning curve for the people who come to us through acquisition, they tend to master OfficeSuite very quickly.
And standardizing on one platform has enabled us to make it better. Instead of cobbling together multiple communications platforms, we’re putting all our attention on one. In the process, we enjoy much smoother collaboration and overall enterprise performance than would have been possible otherwise.
Steve Jobs once said, “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” That insight applies exceedingly well to enterprise computing and to the direction tools and technology are now heading. As a result, mountains are becoming ever more easily moveable.
Lewis Langston is executive vice president and chief information officer for Windstream. Langston joined Windstream in February 2015 and is responsible for the management and delivery of information technology services, including systems architecture, software development, infrastructure and production services.
Previously Langston served as chief information officer at Allied Wireless Communications Corporation from 2009 to 2013. The company was acquired by AT&T Mobility in September 2013. He most recently was an executive telecommunications and technology consultant.
Prior to joining Allied Wireless, Langston was executive vice president of process development and support at Alltel Corp. from 2003 to 2009. He also held a number of senior leadership roles at Alltel from 1998 to 2003 in financial services, operations support and IT service delivery. From 1984 to 1998, Langston held various programming and sales roles at Alltel Information Services.
Langston holds a bachelor of business administration degree in business analysis from Texas A&M University.