As you are reading this post, how many tabs to different apps do you have open right now? Well, if you are the average user, you will have at least 5 different SaaS-based business applications open, with that number predicted to double by 2016. I’m no different with Buffer, Slack, Mixpanel, Intercom, and Trello all open on my tabs as you read this. Having multiple log-ins and user interfaces to navigate, it is now more important than ever to reduce the noise and clutter of SaaS products. In fact, there are many benefits of being “not another destination” that tie into the concerns of having too many applications.
A basic problem with too many destinations is the lack of adoption of those applications. Too many places to go combined with no compelling reason for you to go there means you don’t use it. For example, in the marketing technology industry alone, there are 1,876 different SaaS applications competing for adoption. In fact, 50% of companies use more than one marketing automation solution. So, for these companies the solution for a lack of engagement with their current apps, is to purchase more apps with similar functionality.
The lack of adoption has been compounded by the growing trend of a "bottoms up" sales model, where centralized IT departments are subverted and new SaaS products are purchased by the individual teams themselves. This has driven average revenues per customer down from $96k in 2011 to $13k in 2014. With virtually every B2B SaaS product employing either a free trial or freemium offering, there is now a huge incentive to use the shotgun approach and try as many products as possible in the hopes that one sticks. As a result, the average SMB company uses 14 different SaaS apps, and for large enterprises that number balloons to 66. So what then is the key to unlocking organizational adoption of new SaaS applications?
According to a McKinsey Global Institute report, knowledge workers spend 20% of their time searching for information or finding someone who can help them with specific tasks. With so many different apps, it’s no surprise that a lot of time is spent searching for information, rather than leveraging it. Perhaps a more surprising stat is that it takes approximately 20 seconds to complete the log-in process to any application. That may not sound like much, but when you translate that into time and money, it can cost a 75 person company almost 570 hrs in lost productivity annually! Thus, apps that are able to integrate within your existing workflow are poised to immediately add value for your enterprise.
17 min 13 sec video
With the "consumerization of the enterprise" in full force, enterprises have taken note as well, and are starting to build extensions that use their lightweight nature as an advantage. Sidekick, for example is a chrome extension that allows you to see who opens your email and their profile with relevant information. More importantly, it does this in your inbox, where you need it most. The benefits of Sidekick would be lost if it were running in a different window. (Update: Sidekick was purchased by Hubspot in 2016 and is now Hubspot Sales.) Consumers are increasingly expressing their desire for deeper integration into their workflows, which bodes well for the future of apps that are not another destination.
Ambient services are steadily gaining traction as the future of cloud computing. What are they exactly? A great example currently would be Google Now, with its ability to anticipate what you need before you even ask for it. This is in direct contrast to Siri, which requires you to ask what you want first. The true beauty of ambient services is that as they gather data, they become even more simple and personalized to help you succeed. Pre-ambient services on the other hand, as noted by Expensify CEO, David Barrett, "will continuously get ever more complex, because more functionality means more and more buttons."
One important aspect to note about ambient services is that they are designed as systems, not destinations. Using the example above, Google search as we know it today is like Siri, a destination where we must actively type or say our query. Google Now, on the other hand, is a system composed of individual, context aware units that serves information to us, when we need it.
Thus, a critical element of ambient technologies is their predictive-first nature. Through machine learning, natural language processing, and modeling techniques these products can produce insights that it serves to you directly within your daily workflow. The key then to unlocking the productivity challenges of workers today, may lie in these technologies that are always working in the background for you, saving time and allowing you to do what you do best.