Constellation Research CEO and principal analyst R “Ray” Wang recently gave a talk called “Why Enterprise Software Sucks and How Disruptive Technologies Converge to Change This” at the AMPLIFYfestival. It’s a good talk introducing many of the concepts we cover here frequently.

Wang started the talk in a pretty interesting area: what, specifically, are the problems with enterprise software that enterprise 2.0, social business, gamification etc. is trying to solve? He asked people from the audience why they disliked their enterprise software. Some of the answers were: it’s slow, it takes too long to implement, it doesn’t look good, change is slow, user experience always take a back seat and it’s not personal.

Wang points out that in consumer technology, the opposite is usually true.

These are the reasons so many of us prefer to use Gtalk over SameTime, Google Docs over SharePoint or our own plain text documents instead of project management or knowledge management tools.

Wang had some slides with his own lists of strengths and weaknesses of enterprise software (below), but I think the off the cuff remarks from the audience are better.

Enterprise software strengths:

  • Automating transactions
  • Delivering functional competencies
  • Standardizing business processes
  • Capturing massive amounts of data
  • Ensuring accuracy
  • Enforcing policy

Weaknesses:

  • Addressing business complexity
  • Crossing functional fiefdom
  • Dealing with new business models
  • Providing business optimization and insight
  • Improving flexibility
  • Enabling innovation

Unfortunately the process of solving the problems with enterprise software while retaining its strengths is profoundly difficult. That’s why companies like Newsgator and Harmon.ie can run entire businesses just making SharePoint easier to use.

As Wang moves into several other areas such as augmented reality, gamification and contract negotiation he makes it clear that sexier tech isn’t a cure-all – it’s got to be enterprise grade, and it’s got to solve specific business problems. But again, this isn’t easy.

For example – the matter of crossing different silos. So maybe you install a microblogging/activity stream system. Problem solved, right? But what people in other departments don’t read their streams? And how is this different from a company-wide mailing list?

On the occasion of the kick-off of Enterprise 2.0 in Boston, Forbes blogger Haydn Shaughnessy writes:

The challenge though seems to lie in understanding what the enterprise actually needs. I still can’t help feeling that this space lacks a critical element of definition. Do we really understand what the enterprise needs in 2011/2012? [...] What we really need is a conference that puts the hype cycle on hold while we work out what’s going on.

Of course that’s not going to happen. Vendors – and by extension the conferences they sponsor – depend on hype. But it’s definitely time to start hearing more specifics from vendors about what problems they solve and how. “Process” is an on-again, off-again buzzword in the enterprise 2.0 space. It’s time to move beyond talking about “process” in general and get into the specifics.

We’re already starting to hear some prelimenary answers to some of the specifics. Asana wants to make project management tools fast and personal enough to replace plain text. Box wants to make document management sexy enough that people actually use it instead of sending attachments back and forth. Socialcast wants its recommendation engine to prioritize activity stream updates to alleviate overload while crossing silos.

What business problems do you want to see solved by next generation software?

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