The Next Leap in the Evolution of Enterprise Software

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Evolution is generally characterized by a series of small incremental changes interwoven with several major leaps. Over the last decade and a half, Enterprise Software has crawled from the primordial ooze and gradually developed, feature by feature, into its current state. Right now, we are standing on the precipice of a major evolutionary step that will dramatically transform the industry into a new life form.

Sit yourself at the restaurant bar located at any Sheraton, Marriott or Hilton in a major city. As you navigate through conversations of hitting airline loyalty point thresholds, getting free room upgrades and boasts of how few times these people have slept in their own beds this month, you will start to hear the war stories.  In front of you sit the battle-scarred soldiers of the enterprise software world. They don’t fight for a country. They are the infantry of Accenture, the intelligence units of McKinsey or the special forces of some covert boutique consulting firm. Their weapon of choice: SAP, Oracle and countless others. Enterprise software is a tough world. It is its own unique microcosm that developed through big, costly implementations of heavy and expensive software.  Some have worked, many have not.

Today, however, is a new day.  Maturation of the software community, tools, languages and methodologies allow for faster development and more effective solutions. In addition, changes in infrastructure architecture allow for rapid deployment and scalability without massive upfront capital investments.  Both of these factors have led to a thriving ecosystem of companies that are creating new value for businesses through lightning fast innovation prompted by ever increasing competition.

So how does this affect the next generation of enterprise software? The seemingly impenetrable delineation that has separated enterprise software from consumer software will begin to blur. New software will leverage the best of both worlds and create a new type of experience for the users.

There are 3 key differences in next generation enterprise software:

Usability

Enterprise software was developed to simplify complex manual tasks within a business.  This included storing and analyzing mass amounts of data, automating intricate workflows and doing complex calculations. Software companies touted their long list of processing features whether it was in ERP, HR, CRM or others. To access these features, it seems that many companies simply ‘slapped on’ a user interface.  The user experience was second priority behind the processing feature list.

As a personal consumer, if you do not like how specific software works, you simply stop using it and find something else. Not so with enterprise software.  You will most likely be forced to use software that is part of your organizations IT portfolio. This puts enterprise software in the unique situation of having users who do not like the system and have no choice but to use it. If the usability is not there, it can lead to resentment… and most certainly to lack of adoption.  I have witnessed numerous occasions where good implementations fail because the technology trumped human behaviour.

Next generation enterprise software is being developed differently. Gone are the days of bottom up design where the system features dictate the usability. Software companies are changing their design approach to be more top down. For example, at Hubba, we start with the problem that the business needs to solve.  From there, we lay out how humans would actually use technology to solve this problem.  Once we have that down to the most simple approach, we then build the technology underneath to support that process.  I generally use the analogy of a duck on water.  The user experience, much like the duck above the water, is elegant and graceful. However, underneath we manage the chaos and complexity to ensure that the user can accomplish their task.

 

Integration

The enterprise software world has historically been a build/acquire industry. When developing a suite of software, if an organization did not have a specific module or piece of advanced functionality, they would either develop it in house or look to a smaller company to buy. This turned companies like SAP and Oracle into software behemoths. My experiences working with software vendors trying to integrate outside technologies into a core product had been less than positive. Although I know that I am not alone in that assessment, there were very few options. When charging clients a license fee for the suite, partnering with other organizations would make sales deals very complicated. In addition, the technology was not necessarily there to seamlessly integrate without a large upfront development effort.  Even if you did invest in integration, there were a lot of questions around data sharing and proprietary information.

That has changed somewhat over the last few years. As mentioned above, the ecosystem is thriving and the technology has improved to the point that much of the data issues can be managed. As enterprise software evolves, this means that the world of partnerships plays a much larger role. The value of what enterprise software provides has changed. It is less about delivering a laundry list of proprietary functionality. Instead, it is about pulling all of the most important aspects of a client’s strategy together and managing it coherently in a central ‘command center’.  Integration is a top priority for us. It allows us to follow our philosophy of making things easy for our clients.  Want to store data in our system? Great, we do that really well. Oh, all your information is in a legacy system? No problem, we’ll just integrate with that to keep a single source of information.  Want to run a marketing campaign? Perfect, we have a beautiful engine for that. You say that you want to continue using an existing partner for that component? No problem, just tell us where you want to us to send the data.  At the end of the day, clients are not interested on where the functionality comes from, just that they have it available to them in an easy to use manner. The role of next generation enterprise software will be to manage these relationships and make it seamless to the customer.

Social

We can open up an existential debate on exactly what constitutes ‘social’ in software, specifically in enterprise software…but we won’t. In this case I am referring to the integration of information that keeps a user engaged, supports the decision making process and encourages them to share as well. Let’s face it, enterprise software primarily works in a bubble.  The organization has their own instance/partition/servers/ whatever. That is not how things work in the real world. As an organization, you are constantly interacting with different employees, departments, suppliers, partners and consumers.  We are all now aware of the ‘social graph’ but there is no doubt that there is also a ‘commerce graph’.  You can glean amazing amounts of information from these relationships, information that would be critical in the decision making process yet not necessarily be available on your isolated legacy environment.

The next generation of enterprise software will include key functionality that will allow you to leverage these relationships. It is not in lieu of core functionality but rather an added dimension to the software. It will be part of the essence of the software as opposed to an added component. As I have been frequently reminded by friends at Facebook, there is a difference between a social layer and being social by design.  Some enterprise software companies have taken steps to make their product more ‘social’.  This is a step in the right direction but emerging software will have this social aspect as part of their DNA when they begin.

This post was focused specifically on the features of the software. There are several other factors that are different in this new world such as pricing models and implementation approaches. I will save these topics for another post when we can go into them more deeply.

It is an extremely exciting time to be developing technology for businesses right now. The model has changed and the software is evolving with it. We are in a very nascent stage. We will start to see these trends become more and more prevalent as new enterprise software companies are born into this world.

 

Ben Zifkin

Ben Zifkin is the CEO of Hubba. He has spent the last 10+ years advising some of the world’s largest brands and retailers on how to enhance their business through technology. Ben is a member of the Young President’s Organization and on the boards of The Upside Foundation and HackerYou.

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