October 10 by Kamal Ahluwalia

I believe the genesis of innovation comes from questioning conventions and trends, instead of accepting them. One trend we have seen is the desire for organizations to “get off Excel” in order to get information into more robust systems. We see this in our industry, as enterprise organizations try to get their teams out of Excel when managing price lists, bundle pricing, discounting and other aspects of quote creation.

But the question is, “why?” Excel is a functionally rich, easy to use, effective and ubiquitous application that successfully increases individual worker productivity. The problem is, that Microsoft Excel, as well as Word, PowerPoint and Outlook do not provide the enterprise controls, audit trails and workflow efficiencies that are needed to effectively run a business and minimize risk. To change this, organizations try to mimic Excel type functionality in other enterprise systems.

For example, RFPs in our industry are often issued with a key requirement that includes the ability to provide users with spreadsheet type functionality (but not actually in Excel).

This analysis led to my epiphany: wouldn’t it make more sense to include Excel, a tool already used and loved by the end user?

The Fact Remains: Microsoft Office is Ubiquitous in the Enterprise

Software developers have long viewed usability as an important aspect of software design. However, they often focus only on the application they are creating and not on how their intended users are currently working to get their jobs done. By not addressing how users are currently working, organizations risk one of the main reasons enterprise software deployments fail ¾ low user adoption. The fact remains that the most highly adopted software in the enterprise is Microsoft Office.

And because Enterprise users of newly deployed software systems are not willing to give up Microsoft Office, they often find themselves burdened by uploading spreadsheets or documents or cutting and pasting cells in spreadsheets into the applications. This means users have to get in and out of various applications to get their jobs done. The result may be additional controls for the company, but without productivity gain.

No matter what degree of enterprise application automation you implement, once you are in Microsoft Office you are outside the system and manual.

The Answer is in Innovation in User Adoption

Sticking to my mantra around not simply following trends, and understanding that my sales team would not leave the Excel spreadsheet behind, I started thinking about how to get the visibility and control my organization needed, while still ensuring my sales team could use the tools they were already using. I realized that instead of forcing the team out of Excel, I would make Excel an extension of the Salesforce user experience, which would allow the visibility and controls we needed, while maximizing user adoption.

The sales team can now work in Excel with specific changes in cells such as discounts, prices and payment terms automatically triggering required approval cycles as if they were manually entering everything into Salesforce.

Once this problem was solved I realized the sales team was still leaving Excel to use collaboration tools such as Salesforce Chatter. They wanted to ask questions about the quote or customer in the social tool, diluting user benefits and removing the controls I needed to manage the sales process.  The solution was to find a way to launch social media tools including Salesforce Chatter directly from inside the Excel worksheet.  This additional functionality allowed for collaboration inside the Excel worksheet, while capturing within the enterprise CRM system all related conversations and document activity.

At Apttus, we have been able to take this innovation and offer it to our customers, through applications using our X-Author technology. X-Author interest and adoption has been rapid, because of the obvious benefits presented. I highly recommend that CEOs and other any senior executives take a similar approach to development of solutions for their organizations, and start with current user behavior instead of simply following trend.

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