The lead article in Sunday’s NY Times business section was Google Gets Ready to Rumble With Microsoft. It’s amazing how often the Times is now so far behind the story – most of this piece could have been written a couple of years ago. One quote stood out – mainly because it echoed what was going on in the blogosphere last week. Dave Girouard, General Manager of Google’s enterprise business said, "For the last 30 to 40 years, there has been this huge Chinese wall between business and consumer technology. This was historical and no longer valid."
The blogosphere had a food fight last week – the theme was basically "Why can’t enterprise software be sexier or more user friendly." Robert Scoble doesn’t understand this. Michael Krigsman at ZD Net replied:
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.
Needless to say there was healthy debate from both sides. My view is that Krigsman is dead wrong. Despite the fact that his software and consulting company dedicated to reducing software implementation failures Krigsman won’t buy into the fact that un-engaging, rigid software causes projects to fail. If one considers Knowledge Management 1.0, where most projects failed at great cost and what is available now as what is being billed as Enterprise 2.0, it’s easy to see more engagement and sexier software leads to successful less expensive implementations. Ross Mayfield of Socialtext nailed it:
Enterprise Social Software doesn’t get you laid, it gets you promoted
It seems some of my fellow enterprise software bloggers are missing the point in Robert Scoble’s post. The consumerization of the enterprise is one of the bigger trends reshaping enterprise software. Ask any user of enterprise software if they love it and the answer is no. This will increasingly matter attracting and retaining employees. Especially as NetGens enter the workforce, the biggest demographic shift since the Baby Boomers, and the fact that they choice in tools to get most of their work done.
Enterprise software can do better. In fact it has to, because of broader competition. At least with basic usability. And with due bravery to buyers about the actual return with users are served. Step out of the feature matrix. Also recognize that control instincts lead to unusable crap that is a barrier to collaboration. And every enterprise software app is a collaboration app, otherwise its infrastructure.
If you can’t make software straightforward and compelling to use, you probably shouldn’t make it all. And this is what the Google vs. Microsoft software battle will ultimately be about.