I'm in the business of trying to sell enterprise software, and while we're doing a lot better than the average company that was founded in 1999 (hey, we're still here!) it's a tough slog out there. One of the reasons is the fact that CEOs and CIOs everywhere are suffering from severe bruises and burnt fingers as a result of boom-time software purchases. From these guys' point of view, there is something seriously wrong, and these guys are the customers, and the customer is always right.

Integration/Deployment · I think the biggest problem has to do with time and effort. It's really hard to get anybody to talk about this in public, but pick any of the famous big-ticket software packages (SAP, Siebel, Peoplesoft, Oracle Apps, that kind of stuff) and try to find a deployment that went according to plan or was finished in under a year. I've never heard of one.

This is just nuts. The Web infrastructure is everywhere, technology is more standards-based than it ever has been, and it still takes double-digit months to get a business application up and running?

There are some good explanations. First, the victims customers who are installing this stuff usually have an immense amount of legacy infrastructure; Y2K took quite a bit out, but there's still lots left.

Old joke:
“How could God create the world in only seven days?”
“No legacy issues.”

No matter how modern the software you're installing is, it has to fight around and through the legacy.

Second, most of the big “modern” apps - like the ones I mentioned above - are themselves a decade or more old, and at the core, you tend to find huge monolithic code splodges built around relational entanglements databases and insanely complex APIs.

Still, at the end of the day, I don't believe a one-year-plus deployment of anything is ever justified under any circumstances, simply because there's a good chance that it'll fail. Which brings us to...

Risk · Maybe I was wrong about time/effort being the biggest problem. If you go back to the Global 2000, the buyers of big-ticket software, and get the typical CIO hammered and indiscreet in a bar, and ask about failed installations of big-ticket software, you'll get bitter laughter (or bitter tears, depending how hammered). It happens all the time. I'm talking about projects with software licensing and deployment costs adding up into the tens of millions, going nowhere, producing no results, and eventually shutting down.

It's insane, just insane, that this is allowed to occur. It's a real pity that nobody wants to talk about it (you can see why) because the experience or narrative of failure is a powerful learning tool.

Pricing · Software pricing continues to be a black art, and one which most people practice poorly. The things that contribute to this blackness are the fact that software is hellishly expensive to produce, and good software, once you've installed it, is highly addictive for any business. Thus prices tend to go up.

In this area, I don't really have any advice aside from the earlier piece here about costs and benefits.

The Fallout · The fallout is that a lot of CFOs are now making the assumption that any server software purchase is going to produce no benefits for a year, and the deployment will go off the rails and cost much more than budgeted, and has a high risk of simply failing.

Clearly this is a lousy situation and one we have to get ourselves out of if this is ever again going to be an industry where you can have some fun.

How We Do It · Here at Antarctica, we're lucky in that I didn't even start writing the software until 1999 and thus there's no legacy base. It's got a simple three-table database at the back and will import pretty nearly any XML vocabulary imaginable. At runtime, the objects are addressable by URI (and only by URI) and the output is HTML or XML, and that's all there is to it. You can't imagine how much easier than a big old legacy-rich app it is to integrate this with anything.

So in our sales efforts, we're increasingly trying to get the phrase “and we'll get it done in a month” right into the first thirty seconds of the conversation. Because these days, that gets their attention as fast as any other ten other features-and-benefits buillet points.

Which Way Forward? · Right now, I think the software business has a big hole in the middle. Once you get off the the desktop, with package prices ranging from $50 to $1000 or so, and you expect to be able to install them and go to work, there's this immense gap up to the enterprise-class software that costs millions and takes months of work from expensive consultants.

I think that now we have the technological basis, with Web Services and standardized interfaces, to build a whole lot of software that will fit nicely into that gap (and I claim that we here at Antarctica are an existence proof).

I'm not an expert in financial or manufacturing or salesforce applications and I wouldn't know how to go about building one that would hit this sweet spot. But when somebody does figure it out, I bet they're going to make a whole lot of money.


author · Dad · software · colophon · rights
picture of the day
March 26, 2003
· Antarctica (17 more)

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I am an employee of Amazon.com, but the opinions expressed here are my own, and no other party necessarily agrees with them.

A full disclosure of my professional interests is on the author page.