Don't weep for underappreciated enterprise software

For weekend entertainment and attention, Robert Scoble used the word "sexy" in a headline, referencing a LiveSide.Net interview with Bill Gates where he said that the press (naming the Wall Street Journal) doesn't appreciate that Microsoft's enterprise/business software is underappreciated and at the heart of the company's vast riches.

For weekend entertainment and attention, Robert Scoble used the word "sexy" in a headline, referencing a LiveSide.Net interview with Bill Gates where he said that the press (naming the Wall Street Journal) doesn't appreciate that Microsoft's enterprise/business software is underappreciated and at the heart of the company's vast riches. Following is the relevant part of the interview:

All those consumer services are basically big, big volume. They're tiny businesses in a sense, but they're very important for the population of users that you connect up to and the opportunities you get out of that. ... Some of the things like state in the sky, obviously we want to do a lot more innovation so that everybody just understands that they should use that. Today, no matter whose thing it is, .Mac or the various eDrive cloud store type things, they actually are all pretty small share, they're kind of messy to use. We think that by the way that we'll connect up to Windows in a rich way we'll be able to do something pretty dramatic there, but that awaits the next big wave that comes along. ... So, we always have a few categories like that, but most of our revenue -- who's revolutionizing management software? Who's revolutionizing security software? I mean, seriously, who do you think? The business computing market, which is way bigger than the consumer computing market, no one pays attention to it. Even in the Wall Street Journal, and you think, oh, this is the paper they're going to tell me about business computing; no, it's all about consumer computing. It's okay, but thank God for business computing, because it allows us to price our consumer computing stuff super cheap, and still pay the salaries of these wonderful researchers who like to be paid. ... Anyway, I'm -- (laughter.) It's not the first time I've heard that (MS not innovating). I'm not -- (laughter) -- it's a very common view that if you figure out how I can get rid of it, I will do so.

In his post, titled "Why enterprise software isn't sexy," Robert attributes the lack of broad coverage and the focus on consumer products to a business model--consumer stuff drives pages views, which drives revenue for publications.

In part, Robert is right. Writing about Apple, Facebook or Windows Vista bugs gets more page views than the latest news or opinions on Microsoft, SAP or Oracle enterprise software. At ZDNet we cover enterprise and some consumers topics, with an emphasis on enterprise. We recognize that in the 21st century you cannot easily separate the two, given technology is deeply embedded in work and personal lives. Increasingly, consumer-focused technologies, such as social networking, blogs and wikis, are impacting enterprises, hence Enterprise 2.0.

That said, consumer coverage does help pay for our indulgence in more enterprise coverage. But the financial equation is not just about page views or number of readers--more important is the quality of readers we draw into the ZDNet orbit. The number of influential CIOs, IT executives and staff with purchasing authority or influence is minuscule compared to the number of consumers. It's the quality of audience, not just size, that matters, but the advertising industry tends to thrive on bigger is better.

Robert asked the Enterprise Irregulars for their opinions and several have come up with their own takes on sexiness and enterprise software. EI and ZDNet IT Project Failures blogger Michael Krigsman wrote that Robert misses the point:

When I’m at home using Twitter, 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.

Nick Carr counters Michael's argument:

By perpetuating a false dichotomy between the friendliness of consumer apps and the seriousness of business apps, all that Krigsman is doing is giving enterprise vendors cover for continuing to produce software that's difficult and unpleasant to use. Scoble's asking the right question.

The fact is many consumer applications need a more robust, enterprisey back end and most enterprise applications need to be easier to use. Both Michael and Nick are right--there is a big difference today but it should be eliminated. Ross Mayfield seems to agree.

Vinnie Mirchandani offers a sage view into the buying process and sexiness of enterprise solutions.

You know what turns me on? To see UPS give each one of its drivers a DIAD - and they did it years before the recent wave of personal gadgets - with GPS, wifi, scanning and other technologies. And with a battery that lasts all day. Can our iPhones do that? See the massive technology behind their ops that make it so easy for their millions of customers. This time of the year, you realize they are Santa's elves with the billions of deliveries they do daily.

Anshu Sharma wrote that enterprise software is sexy "like Diane Keaton, not Britney." He listed five things that turn CIOs on: virtualization, SaaS, visibility, collaboration and transactions.

Other EIs also chime in: Dennis Howlett, Craig Cmehil and Sandagopan.