Before saying a word, let me state that in my few dealings with famed uber-geek blogger, Robert Scoble, I've found him to be a great guy and I like him. Having said that, let's address the issue: Scoble asks his readers about enterprise software and demonstrates he doesn't understand it:
Any of you have any ideas on how to make business software sexy?
I wonder what the Enterprise Irregulars think about this? (They are a group of bloggers who cover business software).
As an enterprise software blogger, and a member of the Enterprise Irregulars group which he mentions, I feel qualified to comment on the issue: Scoble's question is irrelevant and meaningless.
Robert Scoble misses this point: unlike consumer software, where sex appeal is critical to attracting a commercially-viable audience, enterprise software has a different set of goals.
Enterprise software is all about helping organizations conduct their basic business in a better, more cost-effective manner. In software jargon, it's intended to "enable core business processes" with a high degree of reliability, security, scalability, and so on. These aren't sexy, cool attributes, but are absolutely essential to the smooth running of businesses, organizations, and governments around the world.
Recently, I asked someone from SAP, "What percentage of the world's economy runs through your systems every day?" While he didn't offer specific figures, we both agreed the number must be significant. That fact alone makes enterprise products fundamentally different from consumer software, where ease of use and simplicity are paramount.
Scoble is right to bemoan the fact that decisions to purchase enterprise software, which may affect everyone throughout an organization, are often hidden from view. Like other basic infrastructure purchases, enterprise software buying hinges on complex, highly-involved, technical and business issues requiring specialized expertise to evaluate. Similarly, when a large company installs a new air circulation system, for example, the buying decision is made by a relatively small group, even though the purchase will affect everyone in the building for years to come.
Having said this, I don't want to de-emphasize the importance of humanizing enterprise products. In fact, many enterprise vendors are looking at social media and alternative user interfaces in a bid to make their software more appealing to users and more competitive to buyers. In the last month alone, I've seen user interface demonstrations from both Oracle and SAP addressing exactly this issue.
Here's how I personally relate to software. When I'm at home using Twitter (click to follow me) , a great example of cool consumer software, I want to be delighted, thrilled, entertained, and engaged. When I transfer money through my bank, which is certainly a non-sexy enterprise system, I demand the system work every time without fail. There's a big difference between enterprise and consumer systems, a lesson I suspect Robert Scoble is about to learn.
Update: to see the latest installment, see Nick Carr’s enterprise software fantasy land.