Sunday, December 09, 2007

Why isn't enterprise software sexy?

Robert Scoble asks: Why isn't enterprise software sexy?

A couple of the Enterprise Irregulars and several commentors respond: Because it's supposed to be reliable and effective, not sexy.

I think the reasons are more fundamental than that. Consider:

  1. Most enterprise software customers have mutual non-disclosure agreements with the software vendors.
  2. Most bloggers have day jobs
  3. Most companies do not want their employees violating the terms of contracts.
  4. Most companies do not want their employees airing the company's dirty laundry in a public forum
  5. Many of the most interesting pieces of information surrounding enterprise software involve dirty laundry.

Personally, I have two ground rules for blogging:

  1. Keep it professional. No personal matters, politics, etc.
  2. Keep my employer, coworkers, and my employer's customers and suppliers out of it.

Let's face it. Most IT and software development projects don't go right. The commercial software that you use doesn't perform half as well as the salesman said it would. Consultants have mixed motives, and more importantly aren't miracle workers. The internal team if often over extended and working outside their core area of expertise. Goals are unclear, completely undefined, or changing on a regular basis. Politics are everywhere on all sides.

This is the reality of business, and talking about it in the general case is OK. People read it, nod their heads, and this "Been there, done that, doing it again right now." But specifics are quite different. Specifics can lead to embarrassment, contract violations, and lost sales.

More people don't blog about enterprise software because it strikes too close to home. I don't think it has anything to do with whether enterprise software is sexy or not.


It just occurred to me that I probably wasn't very clear here on a few points. What is mean by "enterprise software" is enterprise application software, like SAP, Oracle's various applications, PeopleSoft, etc. I don't mean infrastructure software like DBMSes, application servers, operating systems, etc. There is plenty of good information freely available on infrastructure, and people blog about it all the time.

Also, if you look at a lot of the blogs that are out there for, for example, SAP, they are almost all too high level to be particularly useful. It's pretty easy to find platitudes about how you need the right team, buy-in, executive sponsorship, etc and how those (or a lack of them) caused an implementation to succeed or fail. That's all (for the most part) true but everyone already knows it. But there's not a lot of people (that I know of, please post links in the comments if I am wrong) out there posting technical discussions about implementations. Google for "ABAP programming blog" (ABAP is the programming language for SAP), and then do the same for Scala and Lisp. I bet there are more people earning their living off of ABAP than Scala and Lisp combined. Probably an order of magnitude more. So why aren't there more people writing about it? Ok, so Scala and Lisp are both interesting languages. So do the same for Ada and COBOL.

Update: December 10, 2007: Feedback on enterprise software

Enterprise software does receive feedback. Often times significant amounts in forms much better thought out than most blogs. The difference is that the feedback is private between the customer and the software provider. Occasionally it is shared among customers through conferences or other types of "user group" meetings.

If the software supplier will listen (including acting), then this can work fairly well for software that is already deployed. The problem is that there is no information solid information available to support purchasing decisions. There are no readily available sources of "tips and tricks" or "common pitfalls" for deployment or customization efforts. For example someone could write:

We've spent the last 3 months trying to make Foomatic run on top of Oracle. All the sales material touts the Oracle support. But then your deployment tanks, the consultants come in, and they ask you why the heck you aren't using SQL Server. The software is developed against SQL Server and then "ported" to Oracle, and the Oracle port never works right.

Fill in your favorite or least favorite infrastructure products there, the name of an enterprise application, and there you have some useful information. The sales material lies. Once you deviate from their default stack you are screwed. That's the type of information that would be useful - before buying the software or before trying to run it on your "enterprise standard." Not from an over-priced consultant.

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Anonymous said...

The beauty of enterprise software (and enterprise technology in general) is it empowers us as consumers. If it did not work, think of how useless our PDAs, our web services would be as I wrote below...

Mike Woodhouse said...

Why isn't reliable and effective sexy? Isn't the real issue that much enterprise software is neither reliable not effective, but that it just (more or less) scales?

I think part of the problem is that enterprise software is pretty much of necessity built by enterprises. And ultra-large project teams tend not to build inspiring products. I say "tend not to", but I could be less kind - and probably more accurate - if I just said "don't". The "S" in "SAP" doesn't stand for "sex".

Is sexy enterprise software possible? Probably, but it's likely to require easily-interfaced niche applications, which can be and often are sexy.

zby said...

What you just wrote means that enterprise software does not get feedback. You cannot write good software without feedback - and what I would add is that the feedback from the journalist is mostly phony and artificial it only glides over the surface - they don't discover the problems that lurk in the deep and are sure to get you if you are using the software on daily basis.

Anonymous said...

Well, you probably won't find much blogging about ABAP because anything you could say about ABAP would end up being a rant, and those get boring quite quickly :-)

Anonymous said...

Hi Erik,

Writing a “sexy” enterprise application takes a while. I’ve spent the last six years doing just that, so I’m very interested in this debate.

Having done the programming myself (about a million lines of code), the comment above by Mike Woodhouse that “ultra-large project teams tend not to build inspiring products” is one I agree with!

The software’s purpose is to enable business and IT to speak a common language and to easily show and value the relationships between business services, data flows and IT resources.

The main design goal was to make the software fully scalable - from the single consultant to an enterprise wide installation.

In order to make the User Interface as simple as possible I had to invent a completely new modelling technology, which took two years to develop.

If you would like a look, you can see some screen shots on my post, “Enterprise Applications and User Interfaces” at my blog

Your feedback is very welcome.