This post was prompted by a recent blog I read – Refuse to be a Cloud data hostage. The point of this article is that businesses should treat their cloud software like a commodity and be able to switch as they please. This stems from the argument by the Chief Technology Officer of Amazon, Werner Vogels, that:
“You should keep your providers on their toes every day. If we are not delivering the right quality of services, you should be able to walk away. You, the consumer of these services, should be in full control. That is core to our philosophy.”
When I read this, the word that stood out was “consumer”, not business. Consumers may have the privilege of being able to jump whenever they want, but my view is that businesses do not, and perhaps should not.
If you’ve ever worked in a manufacturing organisation, you will know that they invest in machinery only after a long evaluation process. Why? Because it is expensive, they may have to make changes to their processes in order to benefit from it, and they have to train staff to use. Then, if they want to keep getting benefit, they partner with the machinery manufacturer to maintain and improve it.
That is what should happen with enterprise software, whether it is in the cloud or not. Enterprise software is not a commodity, it is likely expensive machinery, and should be treated as such. If you think enterprise software is a commodity, then you are going to get very little benefit and far less than you had expected.
I saw an article that claimed that the PRINCE2 project management methodology and qualification is becoming out of date due to the growth of collaboration. This is contentious and reads like the claims that have been made over the years that ERP is dead. The proponents of the ‘PRINCE2 is dead’ seems to be the same ones that believe that ‘agile project management’ is the only way to run projects.
There is a discussion around the Internet about making enterprise applications work more like consumer applications. What the proponents mean is that applications should look like the ones that run on smart-phones and tablets.
While I appreciate the need to re-engineer the user experience of enterprise software, I am beginning to wonder how much of the discussion is really only a marketing or promotional veneer for some people. What I have not seen covered or appreciated are the deep structural issues that differentiate enterprise and consumer applications.
Let’s first accept that the differences between individuals and business matter. Individuals are like a single cell, whereas a business is like a complex organism. A business is a highly complex society, with rules and practices, as well as a body of knowledge made from the contributions of many people. An individual does not have the complexity or the rules but does have a body of knowledge. How that knowledge is updated is also an important difference. Individuals modify it implicitly through the natural and adaptive process of learning. Businesses have to do it explicitly through periodic strategy reviews and training sessions.
When new or different software is introduced to a business, people not only have to learn how the software works, they also have to understand how it fits into the other processes and operations of the business, so they have to be taught how the software applies in their specific case. The same thing happens for new employees; they just can’t be let loose on the software, they have to learn the rules and practices of the organisation and how the software applies to that.
Now let’s look at the differences between consumer and enterprise applications. All the consumer applications have been written with a single function in mind. This does not apply to enterprise software. When the early enterprise solutions were initially developed, they were done so with the purpose of enabling a specific functionality. There was software for MRP, others for accounting, etc. But over the years, organisations found it easier to use software that combined various functions, and modern enterprise solutions like ERP grew. Consequently, enterprise systems are now diverse, multi-functional and highly complex pieces of software. That presents a problem if you want to make them like consumer applications – it’s like trying to mix oil and water.
I’m not ruling out that a Zuckerberg-like person may one day create a revolutionary user interface and experience for enterprise applications. At the moment I just struggle to see how it can be done.
I started blogging on a South Africa site in 2005, but moved here to WordPress after about a year. That South African site is going to be terminated soon so I decided to copy over a number of my blogs to a page on this blog – see the Archive page.
It was interesting for me to see some of the observations I made back then – some of them were quite presceient, others actually came true or show things haven’t changed at all.
I was one of the many who was greatly impressed and influenced by Geoffrey Moore’s early books on the Technology Adoption Life Cycle and the High-tech Marketing Model – Crossing the Chasm and Inside the Tornado. These books deal with the issues of high-tech product development, marketing, sales and service; describing and analysing processes, positioning and practices of a product as it goes through its life cycle.
Not only did Moore discuss how a technology product should be packaged, delivered and adapted through the life cycle, but he also dealt with the changes in service and support that would be needed, depending on the stage of the life cycle.
For a long time after I read his books I assumed that it was written for the benefit of customers first, then the high-tech industry managers and other workers. However, after attending SYSPRO’s international executive conference, and hearing CEO and founder Phil Duff talking about how the company focuses on its customers, and how it has been, and will be, delivering products and services, did it strike me that Moore’s books are really aimed at one audience – not customers or vendor people, but technology industry investors.
This is another case of me taking a long time to ‘get it’!
Because SYSPRO is privately held, the focus has always primarily been the value of the product to customers, and the protection of a customer’s investment. When Phil Duff speaks about what SYSPRO will be providing in the future, he talks about things that make a difference to customers. At other established ERP companies, a major concern is on the value to shareholders and their returns (something I have personally seen).
When you look at Moore’s bio and credentials, as a venture capitalist, the purpose for writing the books should have been obvious. So in future, when I come across one of Moore’s other significant concepts – e.g., the whole product – I will remember that while this is for the customer, the ultimate reason for the concept is to deliver benefit to shareholders.