Enterprise software under attack

Enterprise software under attack

Summary: Traditional enterprise has come under fire from both disillusioned users and unhappy managers.


Traditional enterprise software has increasingly come under attack from cloud vendors and the general "consumerization of IT." Both these trends signal changing expectations about the relationship between enterprise software and end users.

Traditional enterprise software has a negative reputation for being poorly designed and difficult to use. Although vendors have long been aware of this problem, few genuine solutions have emerged over the years. For the most part, efforts to improve usability have been relegated to user interface projects, such as the EnjoySAP initiative of the late 1990's. However, despite being serious efforts, these approaches left the underlying software, data, and economic relationships between vendors and customers relatively unchanged. Therefore, they did not solve the most important usability problems.

The following image shows a slide on EnjoySAP, taken from a 1999 SAP training course:

Economics and strategy lie at the heart of why traditional enterprise software is so unloved. For the most part, vendors sell these products to budget holders, who are primarily managers and executives, making end-user satisfaction a secondary consideration. When large companies buy software, selection committees focus on many factors, starting with the product's ability to address "organizational needs." This common approach incentivizes vendors to prioritize management goals over creating delight for end users.

Blogger Robert Scoble brought attention to this issue in an insightful video, which sparked discussion among members of the well-known Enterprise Irregulars group. Fellow member, Basab Pradhan, who is Senior Vice President and Head of Global Sales and Marketing at huge Indian consulting company Infosys, offers a pointed view:

Enterprise software still doesn't care about users. Its focus continues to be serving executives, rather than employees, because executives make buying decisions. Therefore, we see all the song and dance about BI and in-memory computing, while employees continue to suffer with terrible UIs and no options.

Consultant and enterprise executive, Dennis Moore, who is also an Enterprise Irregular, further explains distinctions between enterprise business software and consumer tools:

Users pay to use consumer software, but they get paid to use enterprise software. Often, the things that frustrate users of enterprise software is not the software itself, but the business process used by the enterprise, which gets surfaced to the user via the software.

Vendors that de-prioritize user needs to favor the concerns of management create two substantial problems. First, change management becomes a significant burden during many implementations, even resulting in failed projects. To see one example of this, read about the Lumber Liquidators fiasco.

Also read: ERP change management: The silent killer Change management: Denial and the fear of failure Change management and communications for IT success The five motivators of successful change

The second problem that arises from poor software usability is low adoption by end users. Basab explains why this is particularly problematic in situations where users have choice:

Nowhere is the need for this more apparent than in CRM software. CRM is the one place where you can't force employees to enter data. If people in sales don't like the software, you won't even know the event happened. In most other enterprise software I don't see the compelling need for vendors to really make their products easy to use.

Addressing the disillusionment that many users feel toward enterprise software requires basic changes in the relationship between vendors and customers. The solution lies in a new breed of software vendor, mostly based in the cloud, which creates software intended specifically to delight users with simplicity and intuitive design. Prioritizing end-user satisfaction over complicated IT processes, these new companies are an increasingly disruptive and positive force in enterprise IT. 

Also read: Tidemark: Enterprise disruption in the cloud Five principles of sexy enterprise software 

In addition to disillusioned users, enterprise vendors also face a challenge from managers who have not realized expected agility from their software investment. According to new research by analyst firm, Technology Evaluation Center (under sponsorship from Unit4 software), a significant number of managers are dissatisfied with the capacity of their ERP system to adapt quickly in response to business changes. The following slide shows a primary point in the survey:

Traditional enterprise software faces challenge from several directions. On one side, consumer services have trained users to expect a certain minimum level of positive experience when interacting with software; on the other, management is disillusioned with rigid, expensive, and hard to implement systems. Even without an accurate crystal ball, it's clear the enterprise world is changing.

What do you think is going on with enterprise software?

Topics: Software, Enterprise Software

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  • RE: Enterprise software under attack

    Companies are tired of spending big $ to continue recoding their Oracle and SAP systems to support business change. That's why UNIT4 easy change (no recoding) Agresso solution is the right choice for Businesses Living IN Change.
  • Don't believe all the spin used to differentiate with enterprise software

    Greetings Michael:<br><br>This is an interesting discussion and covers topics spun every day by marketers trying to differentiate with enterprise software vendors.<br><br>Poor design can occur in any software, regardless of whom it's for or where it's run. It doesn't matter if it's on-premise or cloud-based, enterprise or SMB. It comes down to the people, technology and inherent complexity (depth and breadth) of what the software supports. In particular, the challenges for providing a quality user interface and experience goes up exponentially as more functionality is added to the offering, which often happens because of actual user need rather than merely undisciplined management. <br><br>The "Cloud" and Web services have made it easier for software providers to focus their delivery and more easily interconnect with other software to provide a complete solution, which beyond simplifying design and development can lead to undiluted obsession (in a good way) to better address real-world user needs. However, smart organizations need to look at their short and longer term technology needs holistically and truly understand the implications of putting together too many pieces and managing too many vendors, which means getting into the mud and not just "white boarding" things out. <br><br>The web is a beautiful thing in that it has made software purchasers accountable for what they buy and software providers accountable for what they deliver and how they support it. Competing solutions are easy to find and so are opinions from actual users who were not hand-picked by the vendor. The days of placing too much weight in a recognized and heavily marketed brand or in fairly superficial analysis by an analyst with potential conflicts of interest no longer provide the measure of CYA once afforded. I want to reinforce here the "too much weight" aspect since I believe these both can be relevant data points in any software decision. <br><br>This increased transparency and competition is great for keeping everybody on their toes, especially those of us where doing quality work is important. Enterprise software companies are certainly impacted by our quickly evolving marketplace, but so is every other software company <br><br>Chuck Van Court<br>CEO and Founder, FuzeDigital
  • Interesting article

    I work for SAP, and it is clear that the author has not had the benefit of up-to-date information. In my case, SAP has solutions for manufacturing that deliver highly configurable, quickly deployed, easy-to-use interactions for the least experienced users. It might not hurt to balance the article with some recent data.

    ...maybe you can at least refer to training material from the current millennium ...
    • RE: Enterprise software under attack

      @paul.boris I appreciate your comments, but the thing that most struck me in reviewing the old course was the relevance to today. Sure, the products and details are different, but the fundamentals of selling to management has not changed at all, in my opinion.

      Of course, I have seen products such as SAP Sales OnDemand, which do change the paradigm, for the better. However, these products are still outside what is typical for SAP.

      If there are specific SAP products I should look at, please do let me know.
      • RE: Enterprise software under attack

        @mkrigsman@... I run the Line of Business team globally for manufacturing. Imagine for a moment, the response of the VP of Operations for XYZ Company when my team shows up to discuss SAP on the plant floor. This is where the rubber meets the road on usability. Our primary solutions are in the manufacturing execution space (ME and MII) some of our best kept secrets.

        Try scanning thru some of the videos at YouTube.com/SAPVideoMoM

        Some of the best use cases are kept confidential as the customers view them as competitive advantage. Maybe I can take you on a tour of some manufacturing plants where folks who can barely use a computer are successfully using SAP solutions throughout their shift.

        The point is yes, we still sell to management, but in my patch the leadership would veto anything that was difficult for personnel to use - so we need to win the user before a purchase is made.
      • RE: Enterprise software under attack

        @mkrigsman@... Posted a response, but it seems to have disappeared. I hope it did not violate some protocol...

        To net it out, look at SAP ME and SAP MII in the manufacturing space.
    • RE: Enterprise software under attack

      @paul.boris Sorry you lost most of your comment -- unfortunately, the ZDNet forum is not without its bugs :-(

      I did start to look at SAP ME and SAP MII and will try to dig in little deeper. Thanks again for the comments.
      • RE: Enterprise software under attack

        @mkrigsman@... You can hit YouTube.com/SAPVideoMOM and look for ones like Sweet Ovations and Greenheck. I would also welcome the chance to take you thru one of our customers plants to see this firsthand.

        We do sell to management, but the manufacturing folks will veto anything that is unusable. Couple that with most people's perceptions of SAP on the plant floor, and you can imagine the premium we place on usability.

        The YouTube channel provides some good examples, but most implementations are not publicized as companies have identified them as competitive advantage.
  • RE: Enterprise software under attack

    This is a good article that can be made better with better research. Despite being a PM for an ERP company, I have believed that there is a better way to automate/acquire software to support business. This just gives some facts to support my conclusions.

    There's a reason why if an enterprise wants a new building that it doesn't merely drag a number of trailers to a site and try to "integrate" them: That's a structurally unsound strategy.

    Or maybe managers are trying to buy business process. That's also wrong.

    This rant is starting to sound like an article...

    Thanks for yours, Michael.

  • Big opportunity for SaaS

    I think this is one of the reasons why SaaS is starting to gain acceptance in the enterprise.

    These companies tend to listen to their users and respond much faster than traditional Enterprise vendors.
  • RE: Enterprise software under attack

    This is why we've gone with SaaS; rather than pay for licenses, integrations and maintenance, you pay just for what you use and let the vendors take the risk. And, some SaaS players, like Transverse for example, only charge a percentage of what you generate in revenue using their system for order-to-cash and activity-to-cash management. The days of inflexible, expensive, difficult to understand software are coming to an end.
  • RE: Enterprise software under attack

    First: I think there is some truth to many of those things that you say.
    Second: there is a new iteration and recognition of the shortcomings of enterprise software, and this is expressed in the recent wave of gamification-related news. Instead of just putting lipstick on a pig, try to redesign the process/app and apply game-mechanics as well. There is way more to say about that (positive and negative), but here is a chance for a definite improvement for ERP software.

    I collected a lot of materials on that topic here:
  • My post is disappearing?

    Michael: My post disappeared. Is there a problem with my post?
    • RE: Enterprise software under attack

      @cvancourt There is a bug in the ZDNet forum, for which I apologize. Please just submit your comment again. Thank you!!
  • Enterprise vs. Consumer, the issues are very different

    Let's put aside the user interface issues and let's face it, ease-of-use has been the domain of consumer software since the birth of the Macintosh computer.

    The problem is enterprise software deals with coordinating multiple processes, across different business activities and business functions. Some of these processes are entwined or depend on data from other processes / systems. This complexity at the system level, and data access level becomes huge the larger the enterprise and the higher the transaction volume become.

    Consumer software typically deals with issues where the task is discrete (e.g. expense report) in a process that that is narrow and fairly independent of other business processes.

    Perhaps companies could consider using a combination of consumer applications for single, narrow tasks to simply user's lives and accept some inefficiency in getting the data into the enterprise system. Then narros the focus of where you need the enterprise systems to support highly integrated buseinss processes and their associated tasks.
  • Agility has become the Achilles heel of enterprise software

    Couldn't agree more with the the article Michael. While you reference the ERP space, the BI space is in a similar position. Buyers are already beginning to choose usability of reporting tools over functionality because of push back by business users and adoption levels below 20%.

    The big change happening in BI right now is seeing buyers (managers and budget holders) look for solutions that are more agile and have a much shorter time-to-value than the traditional solutions.

    Here's our take on the same issues in the BI space. Thanks for the article.

  • RE: Enterprise software under attack

    One of the reasons why Enterprise Software is not very usable is perhaps because of the -inherent feel- of need for flexibility in the software to accommodate the change in process flow of a company over time. This could be why such an enterprise software either developed by a 3rd party or developed inhouse is suffering from such poor usability. Contrast this with any consumer led application where the process is almost standard and unlikely to change in a while. Such lack of need for flexibility takes the complexity out of the system.

    However there seems to be a dangerous trend now in enterprises, trying to make the enterprise software go 'social' (to make it look and behave like a consumer app in market) which I believe is trying to take an extremist approach to enterprise software development.
    Arun (sreearun)