Productivity Flourishes in App Design

Opinion: Enterprise apps got smarter and more robust this year, while CRM vendors failed to consolidate.

Many of the enterprise applications released this year were notable for their productivity-enhancing features—brought to fruition in large part by vendors focus on design efficiencies.

Web-based application developers have used AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) to improve client-side performance and create useful interface shortcuts since 2000, but this year saw the breadth and scope of AJAX innovations increase considerably. I expect this welcome trend to continue for the next few years.

Some interesting examples of AJAX in use can be found in NetSuite and Nsite 5.0, hosted applications for managing CRM data, and Zimbra Collaboration Suite, an open-source messaging and collaboration package.

All three of these products leverage AJAX to varying degrees to drive usability or extend functionality. The NetSuite usability feature called eXtreme List Editing uses AJAX to allow users to manipulate lists of information on the fly.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here to read why not everyone welcomes Microsofts Open XML standard.

Nsite has built an entire application design interface with AJAX, including a form builder and embedded JavaScript editor, to make it easier for companies to build custom on-demand applications.

Zimbra, meanwhile, has developed a client experience around AJAX, giving users a Web browser interface that delivers the robust experience they would otherwise only see in a dedicated client such as Outlook.

Furthermore, AJAX integration allows Zimbra to provide some innovative features, such as giving users the ability to work in context.

For example, a reference to a day or date in an e-mail can be an active link that exposes information about a users calendar, making scheduling simpler. This same technology could be used effectively to expose information in other enterprise applications, including CRM and ERP systems.

AJAX isnt the only method Ive seen this year for delivering a rich client experience in the Web browser. Using Adobes Macromedia Flex, Incentive built an incentive management program that is easily customized and administered. The form elements in Centive Compel, which analysts use to build plans, make it easy to pull together plan components without having to fill out a single massive form.

One thing that didnt happen this year, much to my surprise, was consolidation among Web conferencing and CRM vendors. In fact, the opposite happened, with more vendors entering these already-saturated markets. Some consolidation has occurred, but it seems that vendors are still able to differentiate, innovate and compete on price.

Next Page: Flexible architecture, unified management and e-mail handling.