It used to be that you could depend on Windows (s msft) as the lingua franca of business computing. That’s becoming less and less the case, not only thanks to the growing presence of Mac in the enterprise, but also due to an increased shift toward mobile platforms like iOS (s aapl) and Android (s goog) for general computing tasks. And now that HP (s hpq) has announced that it will be bringing webOS to its computers as well as to its smartphone and tablet devices, it’s becoming clear that the foremost virtue for enterprise software going forward will be platform independence.
Web or browser-based solutions are always a good place to start looking for platform independent tools, since they can usually be accessed no matter what operating system a person is using. However, just because something is a web app or accessible through one browser, doesn’t mean it can be used with every platform. Believe it or not, there are still software tools out there that only run in Internet Explorer, a browser that is essentially limited to Windows, for example.
Being locked to one specific browser isn’t the only thing to watch out for when it comes to web apps, either. If you want to make them truly accessible everywhere to remote workers and teams, make sure they’re functional on all major mobile platforms, too. That means avoiding any kind of Flash-based tools, and also favoring vendors that offer mobile apps, or specially formatted versions of their tools designed for access on smaller screens. This is especially important when sourcing the kinds of software people will be more likely to use when not at home or the office, like time trackers, expense monitors and enterprise-wide instant messaging systems.
The pain and expense of retrofitting old databases and records to be compatible with new software often causes businesses to de-prioritize or put off upgrades and replacements until they’re absolutely necessary. This is like trying to put out a fire by just keeping it out of your field of vision, until it grows so large that no matter where you look, you’re surrounded. Some businesses will even keep legacy hardware around just to support some long outdated accounting software that manages to just barely get the job done. Such systems aren’t portable, consume inordinate amounts of productive time, tax employee patience and even allow workers in relatively trivial roles who know the “secret” to using them to wield an amount of power that’s vastly out of sync with their pay grade.
Taking a proactive stance to replacing enterprise-wide software will free up time, resources, and money. It’ll allow businesses to transition more easily to a distributed workforce model, in more areas, more quickly. It’ll help companies offload legacy hardware and keep pace with technology, and leverage the existing tools employees more and more are bringing to the office environment in the form of their own consumer electronics.
Finally, when researching new tools, always remember to cover all your bases and not just take your vendor’s word for their product’s platform interoperability. Get a live demo, check inputs and outputs to ensure its compatibility with other leading industry software solutions should the product encounter an early and unexpected end of life. Avoid proprietary formats and check to make sure that, where possible, the tool you’re considering uses generally accepted standards established by external governing bodies like the W3C. It can be tricky to find such tools, since vendors stand to gain by ensuring customer lock-in through proprietary formats, but finding solutions that won’t chain to one particular platform should be a priority. Considering the rapidly shifting landscape of enterprise and consumer computing, and the fading line between the two, it’s well worth the effort to do so.
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