Sunday, May 11, 2008

"Enterprization of the Consumer"

Over the past couple of years, everyone has been talking about "consumerization of the enterprise." All the folks from Generation G(oogle) are demanding the Google/Amazon like user experience from their enterprise apps. That is definitely true, but I am not sure if a change in user interface is compelling enough for an enterprise to pour millions of dollars into a new software package. I would be the first person to agree that my enteprise apps should support the search capabilities I get with Google Search or one click shopping capabilities of Amazon, but if I was running a company that is running on an existing solution with a few unhappy users would I be willing to make a wholesale change. Being the conservative guy that I am, the answer is no. There needs to be a huge return on investment to make a change in enterprise solutions.

However, I do think enterprise vendors get a rap for being old and stodgy. I think they could innovate faster and wish they would, but if you look at what is happening in the consumer world today a lot of those problems have already been attacked by enterprise vendors extremely successfully. Here are a few examples:


For the year and a half, everyone was talking about how the facebook platform, and home pages like Netvibes are going to enable the end users to tailor applications to meet their needs. Widgets are cool and fun, but if you want to see a really robust application platform check out the offerings of PeopleTools or Salesforce APEX. Being able to modify a business app with zero coding is pretty cool.

Data Portability

There is a lot of buzz on the web about concerns with walled gardends and supporting things like OpenID. Enterprise software vendors have had to deal with this challenge for years. The fact is most companies have not standardized on a single (let alone ten) and being able to operate with different vendors and support things as single sign-on is an absolute must. Sure you may need consultants at times to build integrations but a lot of the infrastructure is available.


Nowadays when you hear of a partnership between a Facebook and Bebo it is huge news. Partnerships in the enterprise world is an absolute must. For example, SAP is a partner of Oracle as many of its customers use the Oracle DB as their backend. These partnerships are common place and different incarnations of them are forged regularly.

Backward Compatibility

Enterprise vendors must maintain backward compatibility on APIs, and allow admins to revert to the original version of the app if an upgrade goes awry. In the consumer world that is often ignored by vendors and it is assumed developers and end users will often love the latest and greatest version of an application. That is not necessarily true as you see more and more apps offering users access to the original version and newer version of applications.

Hosted Platforms

There are probably more vendors supporting some type of support for hosted your apps on their cloud, however, enterprise vendors have been getting into this space for a while. Salesforce has been hugely successful, and Oracle/SAP are trying to catch up.

In the end, I think the enterprise software folks have tackled a lot of issues that are affecting the consumer arena but not gotten their share of attention. It is too be expected since not many people touch an enterprise app on a daily or even weekly basis beyond their corporate calendar and e-mail apps. There is a lot of learning that can be done on both sides of the fences.


Sangeeta Patni said...

Its more about flexibility than anything else.

For years, enterprise users have struggled to get the apps they needed to get their jobs done. The apps would sometimes be needed for doing a task that spanned days, and sometimes months, and sometimes even years, but enterprise IT would not touch it till it was "critical" and "process centric". This left the enterprise user with no other alternative but to cut-copy-paste into his own tools and get the job done anywhich way. There was/is no flexibility in the BIG enterprise apps.

When enterprise users demand to be treated like consumers, they want just that - Flexibility to be able to build what they want, within days, and not something that they cant discard after their work is over.

Enterprise Mash-ups are one such solution. There would be more.

-Sangeeta Patni
Extensio Software

Miscellaneous Thoughts said...

I think I would have to disagree that enterprise apps are inflexible. A lot of companies have built sophisiticated integrations with tools such as Excel/Word/Outlook to ensure end users are able to leverage the power of their desktop apps with enterprise data.

I think mashups are interesting, but have yet to see major usecases where it is a no-brainer to a CIO/CFO to sign a check to purchase a mashup platform. Gadgets/Widgets are generating a lot of interest in the CRM space, but in reality most sales folks seem to request the ability to do their day-to-day tasks directly within Outlook.