Voices in the Wilderness

keepCalmTronOnce little more than a futile cry in the enterprise woods, there are signs the end user is finally starting to find a voice.  Enterprise software platforms are tools of business transformation, and as such they focus on the foundations of business process and execution to serve C-level initiatives.  Their architectures are largely designed with IT departments in mind as agents of implementation, in order to optimize deployments and integrations, and consequently maximize sales.  The one casualty of this business model is the end user, who through no fault of his/her own is an interesting but largely irrelevant factor.  They are cogs in the machine, batteries in the Matrix.  However, the social and mobile revolutions in consumer technology, along with generational change are beginning to transform old assumptions.

From the very beginnings of IT, Enterprise software has been sold on functionality and broad marketing promises specifically tailored to their C-level buyers.  Purchased systems would then be thrust upon users like a force of nature.  Depending on the implementation, the end user experience would range anywhere between an extended dentist appointment to a Michael Bay-directed asteroid apocalypse.  Users would resist, but their obstinacy was often dismissed as the trademark human cultural resistance to change.  After all, the software was not written for them, but for the grander business objectives.  The software was perfect, sublime; user outcry was merely a systemic anomaly.  Concordantly, transformation is painful.  It’s a plausible excuse used to defend far too many terrible inhuman interfaces.  Software that sometimes drives people to tears.  And so the systemic anomaly, if left unchecked could certainly threaten the future of enterprise software.

Constantly surrounded by software tailored to the individual, users are no longer as complacent to the abuses of enterprise software.  We are stumbling into the consumerization of the enterprise.  Darian Shirazi, founder of Radius, wrote about this quite succinctly:

“One of my co-founders at Radius, Noah Hayes, is a brilliant designer and he turned to me one day and said: “If people spend so much of their day using these enterprise software products, why are they so ugly?  I mean think about it, a sales rep probably spends more time on Salesforce.com than Facebook in a given day.  Why do I have to ‘learn’ how to use enterprise software?”

Previously on E(E).   In the Illusion of Choice I described many legitimate reasons users currently have little influence, especially in the PLM market.  I praised the progress of G2 Crowd, who aims to upset the existing business paradigm by providing a platform where users and implementers can independently voice their opinions on enterprise software.  I did somewhat lament that no one had been addressing the engineering market, specifically CAD and PLM.

Fortunately for all of us, at least one effort is underway in crowd-sourcing the user voice for engineering software: CAD/CAM Reviews.  While still in early prototype phase, the effort helmed by industry veteran Ken Wilson, has the noble intent to be the Consumer Reports of the engineering market.  Power to the users.

As the consumerization trend matures, the question remains whether crowd-sourcing software selection will defiantly overturn a rather well-worn and largely broken paradigm.  Don’t expect sales teams to lay down their weapons so easily, especially with corporate decision makers at their beck and call.  Regardless, the bewildering marketing onslaught is a well known annoyance to many.  The desire for simplicity and truth is very real and so new concepts are quite welcome.  In the depths of large corporate , the prognosis may still be dark and dreary, but I imagine the SMB disruptors will be all over this.  Worst case, there’s always Shadow IT.