Mobile phone apps ruined everything. As a result of minimal processing power and small screen size, mobile app developers had little choice but to keep things basic. Given that mobile devices are used by everyone on the planet, including a lot of people who are not particularly smart, mobile apps also had to be “simple”. Now everybody thinks that everything should be as simple to use as a mobile phone app.
Simple = Simple?
What may seem simple to a hard-core coder, does not seem simple to me. What may seem simple to me, may not seem simple to you. What may seem simple to you, may not seem simple to your Mom. So “Simple” does not equal “Simple”. The dictionary defines simple as “easily understood or done; presenting no difficulty“, but again… for who? I think of it as the “Simple Continuum“, with the coder on one end, and your Mom on the other. The rest of us fall somewhere on this continuum.
Simple vs. Powerful
Simple and Powerful are in an ongoing tug-of-war in every part of our lives, but since I write about Business Applications, I’ll narrow the conversation here. In looking across the business applications landscape, most providers have chosen a path. They are either Simple, or Powerful. Those that claim to be both, are usually neither. Microsoft has clearly chosen the “Powerful” path for Business Applications, which makes sense for their Enterprise customer focus, and their competitive targets. But they do make some “Simple” claims here and there.
One area where Microsoft is staking a “Simple” claim is with Canvas Based PowerApps. Many of us have seen Microsoft’s Ryan Cunningham dazzle us with his ability to build a complete Canvas App in minutes on stage. It’s actually either real, or an illusion of simplicity, depending on where you fall on the “Simple Continuum”. What I have found interesting about Canvas apps is, that it appears that having too much knowledge is actually a handicap. The hard-core coder will take three times as long, to build an app that is not even as good, as what a novice can do. My guess is that they over-think it.
What is Powerful?
Powerful is another loaded term, that means different things to different people. Clearly, there is no question that the Dynamics 365 First-Party apps like Enterprise Sales, Customer Service, PSA etc. are Powerful applications. These applications have the power to solve extremely complex business scenarios, for even the largest customers in the world. But what about companies, of any size, whose needs are not particularly complex? For them, Powerful might be defined differently, they might consider the ability to create a Project in a few minutes to be quite “Powerful”. In fact, the number one reason companies with less complicated needs often suffer with Business Applications is that they are offered “too much” Power. More power than they need, more power than they can understand, more power than they can adopt. This is particularly acute with companies that are new to Business Applications. It is also not specific to Microsoft, many customers of Salesforce.com, and any Enterprise Business Applications vendor, struggle with this same issue.
In designing our RapidStart CRM application, we wanted to walk the line of Simple, yet Powerful. This was no easy task, and it required us to first define our ideal customer. In our case, it was a customer who did not have complex needs, and defined Powerful differently. It could also be a customer who had the potential for complexity, but wanted to start simple, and work their way into it. So our Power would come from our Simplicity. Fortunately, the only other Business Applications out there that one might consider simple, are dead-end products that would require migration once outgrown, whereas RapidStart CRM can simply be upgraded to the Dynamics 365 First-party apps at any time. But let’s circle back to this idea of “Simple”, and how you get there.
Less is More or Less
Fortunately for us, RapidStart has a strong brand, both inside and outside of Microsoft. When we undertook to re-imagine RapidStart on the Power Platform as RapidStart CRM, we had a significant head-start. We also had the benefit of hundreds of past deployments of our original model, to really understand what our ideal customer was looking for. The biggest issues were, adding more features, and making it even simpler to use. Again, this presented a conundrum, adding features increases complexity, which is the natural enemy of simplicity. We opted to further simplify our sales capabilities, while adding Case Management and Project Management to our new application. To insure we were meeting our goal of “Simple”, we enlisted the help of… Pat.
What About Pat?
Pat, is a fictional persona that we created. Pat is an intelligent person, who knows their business, but is not particularly tech savvy. Pat might be the owner of a small business, or a division manager of a large business. Pat just wants the team to be successful, whether the team is sales, service or project management, or a combination of all of them. Pat is looking for something simple, but with the kind of power Pat needs. Pat has neither the time, budget nor patience for anything “Complex”.
Over time, internally we got a pretty good idea of who Pat is, and we actually became friends. We never did figure out if Pat was a male or a female. Whenever anyone on our team came up with a new idea, we would ask: “Could Pat do it?”. It is amazing how many things Pat either can or can’t, or will or won’t, do. In a way, you could say that Pat built RapidStart CRM, but I’m still taking full credit for it.
Beyond the Application
Building a Simple to use, but Powerful application for our Ideal customer was huge amount of effort, but it was only one part of the effort. For aspiring ISVs, there are a few more things that you will need to do to succeed, some of these are complex, but the customer-facing parts still need to be simple. For example, you need to build a commerce engine for people to buy your application. On the backend. connecting to payment processors, auto-provisioning, subscription management, etc, are all complex things, but on the front end, it needs to be simple enough for Pat to buy your damn product. While Marketing campaigns can be costly and complex to design and run, they may ultimately drive traffic to a website that has to be clear and simple enough for Pat to understand. Without knowing in advance exactly where Pat will fall on the Simple Continuum, you will need to be able to provide varying levels of support and training. For all of these, and many other things I did not get into, I suggest you create your own Pat… then just run everything by him, er, or her.