Monday, December 10, 2007

What 'sexy' means when we talk about software

Here's a post I made in response to an article about Enterprise software and its need to be 'sexy'. I don't believe enterprise software needs to look cool and flashy.

I do believe that enterprise software should absolutely be sexy! I am saying this with the understanding that when we say 'sexy' we really mean 'intuitive'. No one cares how 'cool' a piece of software looks if it's unusable and takes drilling down into multiple stacks of menus to accomplish what you want to. We think software is 'cool' and/or 'sexy' when it's easy to use. Everyone wants to spend less of their time learning the ins and outs of [non-intuitive] software and more of their time doing value-add work. We should be able to figure out what we need to do with a combination of a few clicks of the mouse and reading the help. I have been part of a successful SAP implementation and can tell you that it works beautifully. But guess who uses SAP most? The really bright people. The ones who compensate with the difficulty of learning SAP with brute-force intelligence. Not everyone who's using it is highly educated - that's not a slam or insult it's an admission of fact. These are the users that concern me. They are the ones that use the system by wrote, removing any chance that they will use it creatively or spontaneously to solve the real-world problems they face daily. As soon as its use falls outside of their procedural training they will fail. Mistakes will be made. They will not be able to apply common sense or more accurately, their basic problem-solving skills to using it to getting their jobs done.

In my mind, enterprise software has failed completely in this respect. It continues to treat its users, especially those on the plant floor, as industrial-age 'hands' - without valuable insight into the business processes of which they are the true masters. We, and they, are knowledge-workers. I predict that within the decade enterprise software as we know it will be fast on its way out. Within 25 years it will be relegated to the world today's mainframes live in. As the shift from the industrial age to the knowledge age intensifies, so will enterprise software's market share continue to shrink.


sig said...

Assad, well put!

Even being an Enterprise Irregular I do agree in essence with the Scoble / Carr camp, and I think that the hidden transactional ERP systems will have to pop up and start handle the people-centric flows soon.

And at that point of time the pressure to become friendly, usable, creative and more will be hard to overlook!

Dennis Howlett said...

Great piece, nailing an important problem. You say within 10 years but experience suggests to me that change only happens when management sees business value. How then might that be encouraged? What sort of business metrics do 'we' need in order to develop a business case that will fly?

Asad Quraishi said...


Sorry for the long delay in replying. The main problem here is innovation (see my newer post) - perhaps it is also a question of technology or maturity in how we implement it. The 'right way' has traditionally been 'my way or the highway'. Think Microsoft, IBM, SAP, Oracle. As end-users of iPod Touches, Macs, Google Apps, Wikis, and Blogs grow up they will start demanding more from the systems they work with at the office. I don't believe the legacy guys can do it - they've got too much 'backwards compatibility' and 'version upgradeability' to worry about. No, it will come out of the blue and in the form of a system making the right use of the some of the best user-oriented, user-mashable technology out there today.