Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Should Enterprise Software Be Sexy?

Over the weekend, Robert Scoble set off a firestorm in the blogosphere with his post, "Why enterprise software isn't sexy". To be honest, I didn't quite get his argument. But many of the responses to his post do touch on what I consider is an important issue these days.

Nick Carr of Rough Type does a good job of hitting the issue on the head. He starts with ZDNet blogger Michael Krigsman's reply to Scoble...

As an enterprise software blogger ... I feel qualified to comment on the issue: Scoble’s question is irrelevant and meaningless. 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 ...

When I’m at home using Twitter, a great example of cool consumer software, I want to be delighted, thrilled, entertained, and engaged. When I transfer money through my bank, which is certainly a non-sexy enterprise system, I demand the system work every time without fail. There’s a big difference between enterprise and consumer systems, a lesson I suspect Robert Scoble is about to learn.

Carr then comes back with...

I'm sorry, but I think Krigsman is the one who doesn't understand enterprise software - or at least doesn't understand what it could become. The distinction he draws between business and consumer applications is specious. Are we really to believe that making software engaging is somehow incompatible with making it reliable and secure? That's just baloney.

And...

By perpetuating a false dichotomy between the friendliness of consumer apps and the seriousness of business apps, all that Krigsman is doing is giving enterprise vendors cover for continuing to produce software that's difficult and unpleasant to use. Give Scoble credit. He's asking the right question, in his own strange way.
Nick has been receiving a lot of grief on his post, especially from people who follow the enterprise software space, like the Enterprise Irregulars crew. I was in the enterprise software space for a long time and I'm with Nick. I not only feel that there aren't any good reasons why enterprise software can't look as good as consumer software but I also feel that in the near future, enterprise vendors will have to deliver a consumer-like experience in order to be accepted by young users who grow up using consumer Web services.

Also, as I stated in a recent post, more and more business software start-ups are taking a bottoms-up approach to entering a market by enamoring users before penetrating the enterprise. When taking this approach, they have to remember that they are initially marketing to individuals, not organizations, and a compelling user experience is an important criteria for an individual when they decide to use a new service.

1 comment:

ckeene said...

Just because enterprise software is geeky and bloated doesn't mean that it isn't trying it's durndest to be sexy. Let's review the last few enterprise software waves: 1) client/server computing - an attempt to do in the enterprise what people had been doing for years on home pcs, 2) thin/client computing - a mass enterprise hysteria for all things internet, driven by a mass consumer hysteria for all things internet, 3) Web 2.0/Rich Internet app stuff - a slavish insistence that enterprise software be as usable as, for example typepad or blogger.

I put further rants in this vein at Sex Sells in Enterprise Software Too!