The Enterprise Software Sh*t Show


Happy New Year.

I'm getting all the same "really excited it's 2011" tweets, blog posts and emails you are. I'm really pleased that so many people are looking forward to the new year. It's also cool to see others being zen and thankful as well for what 2010 brought them...we all have a lot to be thankful for.

I'm an optimist at heart...really...I don't think you can be a true entrepreneur if you're not an optimist. Sometimes, you have to smoke your own rope just to keep going. But after 20+ years of doing this, I have also developed a fair degree of "cautious optimism" and a healthy degree of paranoia (see Andy Grove). My personality definitely consists of large doses of both Grumpy Old Men and the Dude (minus the drug abuse, "man").

So, it strikes me as somewhat lighthearted, and perhaps a bit foolish that I see signs of bubble-like frothiness in the software business again. I'm no Noriel Roubini, but things feel a little wonky to me.

Here's why my knickers are bunching-up:

The Consumerization of Enterprise Software
It used to be that the software we employed for work was dictated by our organization, and the procurement process was somewhat orderly (read slow and cumbersome) and predictable. Selling into these organizations required skill, patience and experience (and the resulting bag-carrying, highly-commissioned salesperson).

Just like other industries that are being upended (music, publishing, television, advertising, etc.), enterprise software is changing due to software now being pulled into the organization by end-users and adopted at work because of the ease of acquisition/adoption/use and the low (if any) cost.

This represents a complete 180 from the "olden days" (as my 9 year-old likes to say). Or, as I've heard a little too much in the past year a "total 360." [Never quite understood how people miss the fact that a doing a 360 represents landing where you started...oh well, another blog post perhaps.]

Generational Differences within the Enterprise
The web has been around long enough now that you can see clear differences between people in their 40's and 50's and the next youngest cohorts. Growing up with the personal computer (Jesus, does anyone call it that anymore?), the web, mobile phones, Skype, and the like have created different expectations of autonomy, privacy, engagement, leadership...you name it. And settling for the previous era's enterprise software tools doesn't sit very well.

Minimum Viable Products for the Enterprise
While there is a huge opportunity to revisit mature enterprise software segments to gut them of their feature-fat and value-lacking complexities, there still needs to be enough thought and base-level of feature functionality so as to actually deliver meaningful value for the organization. I love the simplicity of many of the mobile and web apps I'm seeing out there today, but if I have to cobble 10 of them together to actually get something useful done at work, then I think we might be trending a little too far toward the Minimum part of Minimum Viable Products.

Importance and Influence of Mobile and Tablet Software
I think I read somewhere that 50% of Fortune 500 companies had purchased iPads for piloting enterprise implementations in 2010. Not sure of the source, or even if that's true. But if it is remotely correct...holy flying pails of cow dung.

Regardless of the veracity of those figures, there's no doubt the take-up of mobile applications has been huge, and the influence and importance of that movement has huge implications for enterprise developers like us.

The Insignificant (and continuously falling) Barriers to Market Entry
Given the global level of connectivity and the (seemingly) zero cost of the tools of production it doesn't take much for someone to launch themselves into the software business. Any barrier to entry that used to exist 10 years ago (other than market knowledge/subject matter expertise) should probably be seen as zero.

The Instability of the Global Economic Recovery
Okay, I'll admit it. Sheepishly. I have some post secondary education in Economics. Fairly useless mind you, but some theoretical understanding (hence useless) of how economic systems are supposed to work. And this makes me very nervous about our current global situation. I just don't see how societies around the world can amass such huge levels of personal and government debt without long-term implications. I guess I skipped that part of my undergrad classes.

Despite the above, there are many reasons to be optimistic about opportunities in the Enterprise Software market. But I think you'd be equally daft to ignore the signs that it isn't all rosy and there are significant challenges to succeeding in these turbulent times.

So, a cautiously optimistic Happy New Year to my Enterprise Software brethren.

(Wow, that was a crazy stream of consciousness post....I'll have to elaborate on each of these items in future posts as I've just skimmed the surface).



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You DIDN'T Have Me At Hello: Social Enterprise Software

I like Dion Hinchcliffe's column on Enterprise Web 2.0. I don't always agree with him, and that's good. He always has an interesting perspective. I urge you to check his work out if this kind of thing interests you (just one example):


But you'll need to excuse me for a moment while I rant ever-so-slightly.

A whole pile of the software that Dion and many others write about are technology in search of a problem to solve. Sure, there's a lot to admire when playing with these Twitter-like, Facebook-like or Google App-like applications. Down to the very last one, they all contain some interesting piece of technology. And perhaps some of them have a clever incremental, beachhead-building roll-out strategy where the real value is yet to be unveiled...and maybe I'm a couple sandwiches short of a picnic...

But I can't find the PROBLEM they are solving?

Or what VALUE they are trying to provide?

Or what OUTCOME are they trying to bring about?

Just for fun, pick a few of the 70+ "vendors" now in the "Social" Enterprise software space and see if you can actually tell what business/individual/world problem they are aiming to solve? Isn't that why we're supposed to be inventing software in the first place?

I know...it's gotta be me. Usually is.


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Technology is Creating a Society of Douchebags

[Disclaimer: Inappropriate Rant in Progress. Reader Discretion is Advised.]

My brother Tim and I had this conversation yesterday. And I can't get it out of my head. We've noticed something in the past few years that is really becoming troubling. Here's the short of it; people not in the room (in your presence) have been somehow been demoted in importance compared to those outside the room. Common interpersonal decency, attention and respect has gone for a crap!

Why? Because everyone is so obsessed with what is happening on their smart phone that they won't give you their undivided attention. Here's an experiment you can undertake today. Go to a restaurant, and look for parties of two or more. How many of these people have their phones on the table, and continue to either look down at the phone, or interact with the device on a constant basis? My guess? The overwhelming majority.

This is disgusting. Yes, we all have "important" work to do. Yes, sometimes something is really "urgent" and we're waiting for an answer. But if you're not going to give your undivided attention to the person or people you are with, then don't show up. If you are present, be PRESENT.

Now, technology isn't exactly causing this, rather it's a behavioural problem. But we're all making technology that is enabling this disturbing trend. We should admit it, and we should do something about it. What should we do as technology builders? Sorry, I'm not that bright. You'll need to figure that out yourself.

But in the meantime, PUT DOWN THE @^%$^& PHONE AND ENGAGE WITH PEOPLE!!

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"Social Business?" WTF?

This one cracks me up. Yes, I'm aware that "marketing" types love to attach themselves to catchy, hip phrases to get attention for the products they work on and companies they work for, but this one is pee-inducing. "Social" business. ROFL.

Are these people 10-years old? Actually, my 10 year-old daughter wouldn't even use such a phrase. She knows better. When exactly did business stop being a social enterprise and start being a "Social Enterprise?"

This will have to be put right up there with other idiotic marketing references like "viral videos." This reeks of a trend of glossing-over the fact that your cutting-edge technology solution isn't really a solution to any real problem, it's just technology looking for a buyer who is a sheep. Hate to break it to you technology developers and marketers...that's not a good strategy. If I need to explain why...well, then you're pooched.

Probably just me though...haven't had my second coffee yet.

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I Suck at MVP

[WARNING: Stream of consciousness blog post. Reader discretion is advised.]

I'm pretty sure I understand the concepts and frameworks; both Customer Development and Lean Startup. And we try to incorporate their ideas (in our own way - for our business/market/product). But I'm left feeling like we're completely missing the boat. Feeling guilty because we're not following the "canonical" examples.

It would be nice if I could pass it off as my innate Catholic (or insert other more suitable religious reference) guilt. But I'm not Catholic. Just can't seem to shake the feeling that we're not doing it "right" way.

I've read the books and keep up with the blogs:

Four Steps to the Epiphany
Steve Blank
Startup Lessons Learned
Certain to Win
The Toyota Production System
Agile Development
500 Hats

I'm part of the right group (Lean Startup Circle) and I try to post something of value so I don't end up just being a lurker and leeching ideas from everyone else. I've watched all of Steve Blank's, Eric Ries' and Dave McClure's presentations on the web. I've watched them so many times, I could probably tell you what version of the presentation they are presenting and in roughly what time period they've made adjustments and refinements.

I try to follow the right people on Twitter:

Sean Ellis @seanellis
Dave McClure @davemcclure
Hiten Shah @hnshah
Andrew Chen @andrew_chen
Sean Murphy @skmurphy
Venture Hacks @venturehacks

And I know there are exceptions to when you need an MVP and when you don't. I think I understand that an MVP isn't a minimal product. I get that people use the MVP idea to help build a great product, increase the chances of success or launch, and maximize the information about customers per dollar spent...but I still feel like I'm building too much when I hear countless stories about "we just put up a web page with some prototype screen shots and then ran AdWords campaigns...split test this and that...built three features, yada yada...success!

Seriously? And people paid you for that?

Crap. It all just feels cheap to me. In a good way.

Believe me, I want to be cheap. I don't like spending more than 12 months on a beta and leveraging my family's financial well-being to build too much of a product when less would do...but I just can't do it. Damn.

I get that it's potentially misguided of me to assume I know what customers want. But we did "get out of the building" to test our hypotheses. We did over 100 interviews, presentations, demos...and the ideas that underpin the feature set aren't even ours! We've co-opted them from what we feel is the best research available on high performance enterprises.

Doesn't help. I still feel like we're building too much.

But I can't stop.

It's definitely more difficult because we are utilizing a foundation of code we have built in the past and invested more than 5M in. But maybe that's wrong too? Maybe we should have just built a few screens and forgotten about the industrial-strength code base we'd built. Maybe we got stuck in the Sunk Cost decision trap?

Minimum feature set...that's the goal...so you can iterate once the
minimum feature set is released...problem is I can't seem to cut any
further and we have a pretty huge feature set...am I weak, deluded, or
just obsessed about delivering exactly what I think is required?

But we haven't heard anything that tells us we're way off the map...but maybe
we're not really hearing what people are saying?...are they just being
polite because they are in my network or friends of friends....?

Perhaps it's because we're building it to scratch our own itch, and as
we use it we think "oh man, you know what we HAVE to include..."

Maybe it's because we're getting responses that range from "it's really cool, but I don't think we'd use it at our size" right up to "It's fantastic, when can I have it?"

Some people definitely already want this...the question is how many others will
feel the same? Is it tens, hundreds, or maybe even thousands? Mother...it's a leap of faith. A sphincter-puckering sized leap of
faith, actually.

Then I hear myself (in my head only fortunately) say, "stick to your vision, don't compromise, don't dilute what you think is right...did I have lunch?...jeez, that's a nice car outside my office...oh crap, where was I?"

Is it an MVP if we still have a list of 50 things we can think of that we'd like to add, but haven't?

Yeah, didn't think so.

Perhaps it's because we are good at building things and it makes us feel good...so we  just keep building instead of launching...maybe we're afraid of launching? Maybe, but we've got little choice now as we need to see if we're going to get any return on our sizable investment...there just isn't any more strap left on this boot.

My stomach is in knots...maybe I didn't have lunch.

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