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Time for a confession: I’m a Facebook junkie.

I was a skeptic about the entire social networking phenomenon up until the day I created my Facebook page nearly six months ago. I had been a member of LinkedIn and Plaxo since the day of their inceptions nearly five years ago and never gained any real value from them. I expected no more from Facebook or any of the dozen other social networking services to which I now belong.

My skepticism was quickly washed away. I now have hundreds of Facebook friends, and the platform has become an alternate communications channel with friends, colleagues and business associates. I have made fresh connections through Facebook through the likes of Steve Case, Jim Cramer and Fred Thompson. Even as I’m writing this column, I’m exchanging Facebook messages with Michael Dell.

As a result of this success and the constant pinging of my work e-mail box of messages from Facebook, I find myself checking Facebook almost nearly as often as my corporate and personal e-mail accounts.

This is precisely the fear of many IT and business managers: end users’ productivity being sapped by relatively useless Web apps than revenue-producing business applications and tasks. Aside from the security concerns about data being passed over open social networks, many businesses are worried that Facebook, YouTube and Web apps like them will steal valuable human and network bandwidth.

It turns out that Facebook is an almost trivial productivity lost compared to the time siphoned by poorly designed and implemented enterprise business applications.

According to a survey by IFS North America, an Oracle partner and provider of business software, 1,000 business IT users say that their applications are less user-friendly than e-mail and Web-based apps. The result, they say, is a significant drain on time and productivity.

The survey found that poorly integrated software, inaccessibility of or an inability to locate data, and illogical processes were the top time wasters of the business applications they use. Users also complained that difficulties in transferring data between disparate applications and navigating differing software packages also taxed their productivity.

“Ninety-four percent of the IT professionals surveyed readily identified areas where business applications take longer to perform specific tasks than they should,” said IFS CEO Alastair Sorbie in a statement. “Bringing features and functions common in consumer Web sites into the business world was a way respondents identified as being able to save time. Business software buyers should be looking for applications that have incorporated such features into their application design now.”

This is not good news for software solution providers. Business software—particularly packages such as ERP, CRM and financial analytics—are intended to automate and simplify that collection of intelligence that measure the performance of an end users’ business operations. If the software itself is drawing time and energy away from critical decision-making, it’s doing little good for businesses and, in fact, having the negative productivity and time-wasting impact many fear Facebook would have.

To be fair, IFS commissioned the study to demonstrate the detrimental affects of poor software implementations on business operations. Drawing this conclusion is, obviously, beneficial for its business of designing better software systems. Assuming the survey and its results are unbiased, the report shows how solution providers need to take better care in designing and integrating software and take greater considerations of their customers’ business needs when building business software systems.

How important is better designs of business software systems? According to the Channel Insider 2008 Outlook report, solution providers ranked business intelligence software as the fourth highest technology that will drive profits this year and the third most exciting technology for 2008. A tacit admission that IFS uncovered a real problem, the Outlook survey also found that business software and application development were the top most desired skills among solution providers hiring new staff.

In addition to poorly designed software systems, I would suggest that solution providers must take into consideration the poorly designed businesses of their customers. Small and midsized businesses are often unplanned and lack the critical pieces of infrastructure and business processes required to utilize the advantages of sophisticated business software. Even mature and well-organized businesses will likely require process adjustments when adopting business software and intelligence apps. In these instances, solution providers must provide their customers with both technical and business guidance to ensure a successful implementation.

Solution providers should report to their vendors the problems they and their customers encounter with business applications. Too often, software vendors—we all know who they are—will silo their apps and maintain proprietary designs to maintain their corner of the market. Failing to adhere to industry standards and heading the needs of partners and end users only creates interoperability issues that leads to productivity wastes and customer dissatisfaction.

Only by taking the needs of users into consideration will software designers, integrators and implementers ensure that the customer gains the full benefit from the business applications that are supposed to make end users’ lives easier. After all, Facebook, YouTube and Solitaire should be the only time wasters in the office.

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: What are the biggest time wasters that you encounter? Send your time wasters to

Lawrence M. Walsh is the vice president and group publisher of Channel Insider. You can reach him at