Robert Scoble doesn't understand enterprise software

Robert Scoble doesn't understand enterprise software

Summary: 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?


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.

Topics: Software, Enterprise Software

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  • The question is does enterprise software understand sexy consumer products?

    One question from my opinion piece on our conversation with Bill Gates is how much (does)will consumer focusing software affect what happens in the enterprise? While enterprise may not be sexy, it is not static, and there are numerous examples of consumer products moving into enterprise - some by force. In that light, then, if Microsoft isn't sexy, and the products that are moving into Enterprise come from Google and Apple instead, how will that affect the landscape?
    I agree that the consumer and enterprise spaces have different focuses. I am not so sure they are mutually independent.
    Kip Kniskern
  • RE: Robert Scoble doesn't understand enterprise software

    The push to get SAP into smaller enterprises is a scandal on several fronts. Rather then repeat a litany, I will say that usability and training issues are the greatest stumbling blocks. I have just witnessed the decommissioning of a pre-production SAP system that was to serve a company of about 150 employees. The SAP consultants were, to put it charitably, criminal in avary legal sense of the word in regards to fraudulent representations, collusion with the vendor, bait and switch in regards to functions and, finally, knowledge aforethought of the need for follow on fixes that were needed to make the installation minimally useful.

    The company scrapped the SAP install, and a wonderful young man actually cobbled together an amalgam of Web-Ware and existing Microsoft and linux products that now work seamlessly for this small business.

    Unorthodox? Surely. Supportable? We'll see. A harbinger of thing to come? Certainly.
    • Tell me more

      I want to hear more about this situation, and if you give me the names I'll write about it.
  • Intuit doesn't grasp the meaning...

    of enterprise software either. Their enterprise edition is a joke. It is so limited in scope that it is no better than pro or premier. I regret buying it for my enterprise.
  • It's a bad idea to blog about enterprise software

    I don't think it has much to do with being sexy or unsexy.
    Erik Engbrecht
  • RE: Robert Scoble doesn't understand enterprise software

    "Enterprise software is all about helping organizations conduct their basic business in a better, more cost-effective manner"

    What are you smoking? Google this phrase - "botched SAP implementations".

    Enterprise software is more like trying to get a business to live inside a (proprietary) box.

    Don't drink the Kook-Aid.
  • RE: Robert Scoble doesn't understand enterprise software

    since when does any one consider scoble to be more than the paris hilton of tech blogging any way ?
    atul abraham
  • RE: Robert Scoble doesn't understand enterprise software

    Hi Michael:

    I'm not sure I understand your gripe about Scoble
    calling for sexy enterprise software.

    I look at Citibank, my business and personal bank.
    Citibank's Web site is enterprise software. It has not
    changed in the past 3 years. The same crappy user
    interface is still there. The same poor user flow is
    built-in. The same poor integration between my
    personal and business accounts exists. I'm grateful
    that my money transfers on time.

    I am now actively looking for a new bank. "Sexy" is a
    competitive differentiator and good design will make
    me choose a new banks.

    This is more in play than your article admits.

    -Frank Cohen
  • What isn???t sexy enterprise software?

    I explored the notion of why people
    who are exposed daily to high
    interface and interaction values
    inherent in TV, movies, advertising,
    magazines and gadgets in the
    consumer sphere are somehow
    supposed to be rendered incapable of
    expecting and appreciating the same
    within the walls of the enterprise from
    9 to 5, with a dozen enterprise
    examples that aren't sexy:

    What isn???t sexy enterprise software?
  • Consumerisation of business technology

    I produce software that is used in the enterprise space and I certainly believe that the distinction between "consumer" and "business" is in the wrong place.

    I think Scoble has a point. The distinction between "consumer" and "business" to me comes down to the fact that with consumer technologies, the buyer and the user are one and the same. With business technologies, the buyer of the software is not the user - and so considerations about how the user needs to use the software in real life take a lower priority. And mistakenly so.

    And I do look forwards to a future in which business software begins to take more cues from consumer software, while still being reliable etc, e.g:
  • What 'sexy' really means

    Enterprise software should absolutely be sexy! I am saying this with the understanding that 'sexy' really means 'intuitive'. No one cares how 'cool' a piece of software looks if it's unusable and takes drilling down into multiple stacks of menus to accomplish what you want to. Everyone wants to spend less of their time learning the ins and outs of [non-intuitive] software and more of their time doing value-add work. We should be able to figure out what we need to do with a combination of a few clicks of the mouse and reading the help. I have been part of a successful SAP implementation and can tell you that it works beautifully. But guess who uses SAP most? The really bright people. The ones who compensate with the difficulty of learning SAP with brute-force intelligence. Not everyone who's using it is highly educated - that's not a slam or insult it's an admission of fact. These are the users that concern me. They are the ones that use the system by wrote, removing any chance that they will use it creatively or spontaneously to solve the real-world problems they face daily. As soon as its use falls outside of their procedural training they will fail. Mistakes will be made. They will not be able to apply common sense or more accurately, their basic problem-solving skills to using it to get there jobs done.

    In my mind, enterprise software has failed completely in this respect. It continues to treat its users, especially those on the plant floor, as industrial-age 'hands' - without valuable insight into the business processes of which they are the true masters. We, and they, are knowledge-workers. I predict that within the decade enterprise software as we know it will be fast on its way out. Within 25 years it will be relegated to the world today's mainframes live in. As the shift from the industrial age to the knowledge age intensifies, so will enterprise software's market share continue to shrink.
    • Positive?

      Definitely a more intuitive insight to the topic, however I disagree with your future predictions as to enterprise s/w. The growth and planning is an efficient machine itself. The growth of this market is, and will be, impenetrable for many decades to come, until the process is so well defined that the business almost runs itself. Then it may 'shrink'.
      The more efficient the process to a wide market (Small, Medium and Large Enterprise) won't 'shrink' while the business operations are without difficulty and 99% of the time 'will NOT fail'.
  • Clash of massive egos

    The true test of any software product in a business setting is whether it makes business get done faster. I have built systems that replaced three of the five full time people working in a department. Same amount of work being accomplished by fewer people. It's secure, it scales. That's a win.

    But after we got it to where it could get the business done, the users started asking for changes that one could call embellishments. They wanted to customize the interface, they wanted AJAX, themes...they wanted it to look cool...that's an exact quote.

    My experience actually building systems...opposed to actually blogging about software demos put on by that it's a huge mistake to ignore the cool factor for the system end users. Reliability and security are fundamental. User acceptance is one of the big factors about whether a system will get used at all.
    • It's not the cool factor

      You're on the right track, however...

      User acceptance isn't "one of" the big factors - it IS the only relevant factor. Without user acceptance and support, no project can succeed long enough to make it worthwhile. And I think that's what you were getting at.

      Regarding the subjective nature of cool...

      Cool is subject to interpretation. Focused business users prefer tools that make their jobs easier and more productive. To many of them, an attractive UI is simply one that removes as much friction as possible from their day-to-day activities. That, is a cool UI.
  • OK, so "sexy" was the wrong word

    My take on the matter:

    There are a whole bunch of ways in which Enterprise Software is typically different from "home user" stuff (even if an increasing number of those home user apps happen.

    1: Enterprise Apps can rely on a particular client (systems) configuration. Customer-facing apps have to work with "anything" (Internet Explorer vs. Firefox, Windows vs. Mac vs. Linux, Broadband vs. dial-up)

    2: Enterprise Apps can assume that staff will take the time to be properly trained in how to use the Apps. Hence, you can get away with what the Customer-facing crowd would regard as "confusing" forms, and rely on a learning curve to deliver a "dense" application rather than an "obvious, click here, click there, click wherever.)

    3: Enterprise Apps can, indeed DO, enforce a relatively standard workflow. Customer-facing apps tend to be "simple in the extreme". For stuff like cost-control of a multiple-project office, I can see why you'd want standard workflows as the propogation of best practice.

    4: Enterprise Apps _TEND_ to be integrated and form the "whole solution" (or at worst, integrate with one or two other enterprise Apps - SAP talking to PeopleSoft or similar) (this is obviously related to the standard-process stuff in 3). Customer-facing Apps tend to (certainly in the last year or so) expect to be part of an ad-hoc "mashup", in which their usage will ebb and flow.

    As a result of the above, Enterprise Apps tend to be good for "top-down command and control". Customer-facing apps tend to be good for "ad hoc, evolving process, fast-changing team"-time work.

    Why would you want to make one look more like the other (except maybe, that Enterprise Apps could learn something about usability, but as you say, they are!)

    Horses for courses, as we say in England.
  • RE: Robert Scoble doesn't understand enterprise software

    I couldn't agree more. I'd rather the software just plain WORK. I've seen too many times where business related software failed due to something fancy that just didn't need to be part of the package. Make it work, forget about fancy or sexy, because I don't want to have to pay for that b.s. in my business software. And, yes, we will pay for it because a programmers/graphic artists time is money.
  • Why is "enterprise software" evil?

    You're asking the wrong question.

    I remember when I was finding bugs in rocket and
    aircraft simulations for NASA, when I was finding bugs
    and helping make CAD/CAM/CAE software better so
    we could have better cars and trucks and cranes and
    toys and power tools. I developed a data-base
    generator for some old engineers to help them keep
    better track of their existing assembly, part and tool
    designs. Then a consultant showed up touting MRP
    and massive integration of data-bases. It sounded so
    easy, so convenient. But then I got this queasy

    When I went back to university to re-tool, I found they
    were flagrantly violating the federal Privacy Act (and
    lying about it), not because of any need, but because
    of a desire for power and convenience. They tied
    themselves in loops to rationalize even the most
    blatant violations.

    I want to know why so much so-called "enterprise
    software" is downright evil. Why are they so intent on
    violating customers' privacy? Why are they so intent
    on violating employees' privacy? Why are they so
    intent on violating students' privacy?
    • Answers

      The answer to this question is straight forward. I have worked with similar corporations on the edge of fancy (and even sexy) enterprise s/w implementations for such systems. Clearly your implementation did not have enough 'Bright Sparks' to tackle the s/w side of things to handle the (new) process.
      More often than not, multinational companies take such essential, and in-place, s/w for granted. Maintenance and upgrade take a backseat, while s/w development keep working hard on flexible solutions within the companies. By the time (perhaps 3 years has passed..) the modern technology of the solution has changed, and 3 years hard work is not compatible and I bet they are first to have the finger pointed at them!
      I am quite sure that if you had a team of Material Resource Planning consultants and freelance developers (with good backgrounds) on-site and a team of your people to learn and train the new MRP procedures, your queasy feeling could have been avoided.
  • The only real difference...

    The only real difference between consumer and enterprise software should be scalability.

    Consumer software tends to have a better designed interface, with easier to decipher menu systems and task oriented wizards, making for a quick and easy learning curve.

    Enterprise software tends to be the exact opposite. The geeks that write the code have their own logic when it comes to menus and file systems, logic that rarely coincides with that of anyone else in existence, and particularly not the end users of the products.

    A well designed and thoroughly thought out user interface design belongs in both products. The average business user does not have time or funds available for days, or even weeks, of training on how to use new software.

    Consumer software is every bit as powerful as enterprise software, and in some cases, more so. There's absolutely no reason enterprise geeks can't write code with the end user in mind, as well as the process. It takes little more than a few small focus groups and the ability of the geeks to actually hear what the groups say.
    Dr. John
  • forget Scoble, does Krigsman know what a "cool consumer app" is?

    I followed his link to the "cool, consumer app" only to find myself at the latest excuse for a web site portal called "twitter". It looked like it was designed for 7 year olds in simplicity of use.

    Does Michael Krigsman know the difference between consumer software (a .exe file that runs on your system) and a web site url? This is the trouble when journalism majors start writing about technology. All of a sudden the loosest "user speak" becomes the norm for the I.T. industry. How soon can it be before "coffee holder" and "DVD-ROM drive" become synonomous now?