I used to write software that was used to X-ray trucks at border crossings. The user interface for this software was web based. We provided, installed and maintained the servers, the workstations, the monitors and, most importantly, the software.

There was a huge advantage to this model that we entirely took for granted.. we had complete control over the browser.

Our chosen browser at that time was Internet Explorer because, to mis-quote a famous saying, nobody ever got fired for using Microsoft. Government IT departments are happy when they see it in a tender document, users are used to it and it (historically) would never update itself automatically and break without you knowing about it.

When we made changes to our UI, we tested them in one browser, on one monitor, at one resolution. Those were the good old days.

We drifted along naively in this one-browser utopia until, one day, a potential customer asked a perfectly reasonable question during a demo..

So.. I can see this on my iPad, right?

At the products inception 5 years earlier, the business had decided that they would support Internet Explorer only. At that time, supporting multiple browsers in that kind of environment wasn’t a thing. The UI looked great, we were proud of it, but we knew that it wouldn’t work correctly in any other browser. The world had changed though, which meant we had to change too, or lose out to competitors. We knew this moment would come, we just hoped it wouldn’t be so soon.

The result of this was some short term ‘hacks’ to win a tender, followed by a long development programme to bring the UI we had so carefully crafted over the last half of a decade into the 21st century. We paid the price for being complacent and tying ourselves to one browser.

The lesson we learnt here does not only apply to people who sell X-ray systems to governments, the entire enterprise environment is changing.

People bring their iPads to work and expect to be able to use them as an extension of their workstation. Salesman on the road expect to be able to use the same software on their mobile as they do on their laptops. Users are more aware of the alternatives to their default browser and expect that if they download Google Chrome that it ‘just works’.

If you’re an enterprise developer, you can no longer ignore this trend. With everything we produce, we need to consider the myriad of possible platforms it may be viewed on. Users are less tolerant to ‘sorry we don’t support Firefox’, because most other sites they use day-to-day do support Firefox.

We need to keep an eye on what’s coming next too. In one years time, the version of Chrome you are testing on now will probably have been superseded by fifty automatically installed updates.

Responsive design is no longer something for other people to worry about. Mobile first isn’t somebody else’s problem. Browser feature detection and Javascript that works cross-browser isn’t just for the guys who build consumer facing stuff.

If we don’t think about this stuff now, then somebody else will… and that could be business we’re losing.