Five principles of sexy enterprise software

Five principles of sexy enterprise software

Summary: Most enterprise software is boring, despite playing an important (and often hidden) role in modern life. Here are five ways to make enterprise software sexy.


Most enterprise software is boring, despite playing an important (and often hidden) role in modern life. The projects are huge and often fail, screens are impossible to decipher, and innovation seems lost in vendors' desire to pump out meaningless upgrades.

To help bring sex back into enterprise, here are five principles to make enterprise software sexy:

1. Functionality and fit to task. Software should perform the basic functions users need to get their jobs done; without that, there's really no point.

2. Business process scope and coverage. Enterprise software automates specific business processes, whether CRM, accounting, or so on. Sexy software offers the full range of process automation needed to perform the job well.

3. Great user interface. The best software is easy to use, simple to understand, and straightforward to deploy. Software that doesn't meet these goals just ain't sexy.

4. Feelgood mojo. Never underestimate the power of feelgood mojo, which is a another way of describing customer delight. It's no coincidence the project failures about which I write usually rate zero on the feelgood scale.

5. Strong competition. Innovation requires competition and the desire to achieve. Without intense and vibrant competition, sexy enterprise software will never happen. The cloud vendors are doing good stuff, while many on-premise folks seem lost in the haze of year 2000.

Please share your nominations for sexy enterprise software in the year 2011.

[The photo, called Sex Sells, by Michael Krigsman, shows a girl soliciting donations. Draw your own conclusions about the relevance to this post.]

Topics: Enterprise Software, SAP, Security, Software

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  • RE: Five principles of sexy enterprise software


    Great list! I completely agree. However, I doubt if traditional Enterprise Software can ever become sexy because they are incapable of addressing the 5 points you raise:

    1) Functionality and Fit ? this is the number one reason software projects fail. A ?canned? solution from even the greatest software vendor is not capable of addressing the fit of a customer. Consequently, modifications/enhancements or integration is attempted which only makes matters worse and leads to the ultimate failure of the project. These approaches raise the risk, cost and disruption to a business and still fall short of the requirements of the Operation. Canned software was built to consolidate financials and eliminate the archipelago of legacy systems that litter a company. They effectively ignore the Operations of a company and offer only ?one? way to do even the simplest task. Some companies have very strong Operations groups which resist implementation of the ERP selected by Finance and IT.

    2) Scope and Coverage ? this too is a fatal flaw of ERP. While these applications have a broad set of software they have completely ignored the one element of business that results in their application becoming a boat anchor around the neck of the customer: change. Change is constant in business and many would argue it is only accelerating as the world gets smaller and flatter. Compliance, regulations, competition, product lines, margin pressure, geographic expansion and global economic uncertainty requires that a business be agile. The scope and coverage of the ERP solutions chokes the ability of a company to respond to even the smallest opportunity or requirement in a meaningful, timely manner. Nowhere is this more evident than in Operations. Just as point 1 demonstrates the impact a lack of Fit can have, so too does a scope that does not include Agility.

    3) Great UI ? if you want to take a sip of information from an ERP you are provided a fire hose of data. Complex screens that contain every possible permutation of data flood a user with too much information that requires an overly complicated set of input, function keys or secret handshakes to navigate. Consumers are able to use simple mnemonics to get a crush of data distilled down to the most relevant by search engines that my children can use. The UI of ERP applications are not just poorly constructed from 1980?s design theory (client/server) but they reflect the rigid processes they impose upon Operations. See #1 and #2 for further details to the effects this has on business.

    4) Mojo ? it is impossible to feel good about your software when it feels like a noose around your company?s neck. IT has been relegated to the department of No. Operations have been made to appear whiny and needy. Senior management looks at the invoices to vendors and consultants and is made to feel like a sucker for spending the company?s hard fought capital on project that seemingly delivers nothing but infighting and rigor mortis.

    5) Strong Competition ? because the enterprise software market is so large we are guaranteed that competition will remain fierce. The traditional enterprise software vendors swim in a Red Ocean of their customer?s blood. Blue Ocean enterprise software vendors exist that provide value innovation to their customers without the cost, disruption or risk. Customers are able to achieve the Agility, Ease of Use, Fit and Scope their business demands and their Mojo toward these next generation enterprise providers is very strong. The industry analysts, pundits and editors spend all their time reporting on the carnage of the Red Ocean and not nearly enough time helping business find the new solutions that obviate the negative effects of the existing system investments.

    I would add one more point to your list, even though 6 isn?t as sexy as 5. The last point would be for Enterprise Software to be sexy it must build on top of the existing investments without any need for modification, integration or replacement. This allows for constant, incremental gains in the process, data and technology of a business so that their own innovation can be unleashed. Operations, and the "blue collar" workers that make, store, sell, distribute, deliver, install and service everything that makes consumer life comfortable and industrial life profitable need dynamic solutions that change at the speed of business. Customer compliance, federal regulations, expanding geographic markets, new products, acquisitions/mergers, competitors, margin pressure and other such significant shifts occur all the time in business. Operations need to change quickly and Enterprise Software must finally be delivered with this as a primary tenet. Blue Ocean software vendors realize this and will eventually win the day while ERP and Best of Breed applications put lipstick on the pig and continue to devour their customers.
  • RE: Five principles of sexy enterprise software

    Michael,<br><br>Entertaining as ever. Thank you for much needed levity. Now if we're really talking about 'sexy' enterprise software, that would imply an appeal to users. Mojo and a great UI notwithstanding, the problem with most enterprise software today isn't the software. Rather it's the ability for the users to embrace it together with an understanding of the processes supported by the software. So if more 'sexy' software leads to a better dynamic between user, the software and process - we're all for it but this may all be too much for us to accomplish in just one year (particularly if the last 10 are any indicator).<br><br>Best wishes,<br>datango
  • Sexy Enterprise software

    What I liked about this post is that it should stir a lot of debate. I hope so. I've been in this space for over 25 years and have seen it all. The points above are on the ball BUT I would say don't cover the other key points. The UI is where the rubber meets the road. The largest population of your employees use the UI to drive most of your business, so;<br><br>Why in 2010 (2011) is this still being discussed when it wasn't a lot different 25+ years ago? Why do we keep making the same mistakes? If only to prove a point, Google Email, just fairly recently added "hotkey" support - LOL - from Google site :<br><br> "Keyboard shortcuts help you save time by allowing you to never take your hands off the keyboard to use the mouse". <br><br>Enterprise application developers, for the most part, hate building UI's. I think the Iphone and touch devices are changing some of that BUT it's still as true today that a programmer would prefer to live in code than work on the building best UI.<br><br>Real Enterprise Developers, especially the good ones have a short shelf life. i.e. the project life is longer than their "I'm bored" or "I want to be working on the next new platform" careers. This means most projects are rushed or fail at the most important time - delivery to the user.<br><br>The Browser has killed the innovation around the UI. The browser is so bad at being a sexy UI, it has to be loaded with plug-in's and code hacks (Java script) that makes the end result un-usable or unsupportable. Case in point, if you hit backspace in a browser, when not in a field, you could lose all you work. Fat Clients running in a browser (Silverlight, Flex, Flash etc.,) goes a long way to fixing the browser so the UI is easier to manage and can be more "sexy". Yes, these are fat client (download) technology- just delivered on demand like any other client server technology is today.<br><br>I firmly believe if the Enterprise Applications provided an API at the UI level, then the User Experience becomes a configurable experience not a locked in experience. This is not how most enterprise applications are built today. I still see employees in the Enterprise using 5 - 10 different UI's each day and this will be the norm for many years to come. Even UI's that are 5 minutes old succumb to the need of optimization, configuration.<br><br>An enterprise application should deliver the information to the user (as sexy as possible but not sacrificing optimization) but only the information relevant to the task at hand. It doesn't matter how many applications are involved, a user should see few of them. We have turned employees into manual workers and spend forever training them up on the manual interactions of poorly designed UI's. Look for automation and User Process Improvement / Management (UPM) tools that take what you have, and make it better, a lot better. They exist.