Taking on Excel, and Winning, Sort Of.

Summary:It’s common knowledge that, when trying to find a true market leader in mid-market enterprise software, the “other” category is by far the largest, despite the efforts of Microsoft, SAP, Oracle, Lawson, Infor, and pretty much any vendor with dreams of high volume sales to capture true market dominance.But a dominant position has already been established by the one vendor no one mentions in the surveys, mostly because that vendor’s products are so ubiquitous.

It’s common knowledge that, when trying to find a true market leader in mid-market enterprise software, the “other” category is by far the largest, despite the efforts of Microsoft, SAP, Oracle, Lawson, Infor, and pretty much any vendor with dreams of high volume sales to capture true market dominance.

But a dominant position has already been established by the one vendor no one mentions in the surveys, mostly because that vendor’s products are so ubiquitous. The vendor is Microsoft, the product Excel, and in categories from business intelligence to supply chain management to CRM, the number one mid-market product is that little old spreadsheet. Which makes job #1 of every other software vendor to unseat this extremely well-entrenched incumbent. Or at least co-opt it.

Indeed, in most cases it’s such an uphill battle that the best strategy is to co-opt Excel, rather than fight. So enterprise software products abound that include not just an Excel “workspace”, but click and drop integration with Excel spreadsheets that even non-techies can use (which is always a rather condescending comment, but, then again, this is world in which people proudly march around with “For Dummies” books that advertise their owner’s cognitive capabilities – or lack thereof – for all to see. Go figure.)

Recent visits with supply chain management vendors, like Demand Management Inc., on-demand warehouse management vendors like SmartTurn, on-demand CRM vendors like Zoho, and pretty much every vendor I’ve talked to this year show an awareness of the Excel factor in every deal. These vendors, and this is only a smidgeon of the vendors who fit this category, have realized that Excel is everywhere, and rather than trying to pry it from the users’ clutches, they’ve sought to embrace their main competitor, even as they arguably offer functionality – and a user experience – that, pardon the pun – excels over anything that Excel could offer.

These little vendors are hardly alone. SAP and Oracle both offer various forms of Excel integration, and SAP has plans to make the joint SAP/Microsoft Duet product more Excel-friendly. In fact, the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” mentality is so well-established that Microsoft is pushing various forms of Excel integration, even in its Dynamics ERP product line. (This is more than just eating your own dog food – they’re sleeping in their own dog food too.)

How far will this Excel-fever go? I wouldn’t be surprised if someone came up with an Internet search interface to Excel, as well as a YouTube and Facebook interface. The product is so entrenched it would take a dose of mustard gas to get some of these users to quit.

So, like the floppy disk icon that never dies, the Excel spreadsheet lives on and on, despite advances in technology that should have buried it a long time ago. This ubiquity and staying power says volumes about what users want from enterprise software, and their continued votes in favor of a 20-plus year old user experience should give everyone who believes that the best technology deserves to win a deserved pause. Excel works well-enough for millions of users all day long, and learning to live with it is a strategy that everyone, from CEOs to managers to software developers, needs to keep in mind.

The more things change……

Topics: Collaboration, Enterprise Software, Microsoft, Software

About

Joshua Greenbaum has over 20 years of experience in the industry as a computer programmer, systems analyst, author, and consultant. In addition to his work from various bases in Silicon Valley, he spent three years in Europe tracking the enterprise software market as an analyst and correspondent for leading industry publications. Josh is... Full Bio

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