Sunday 16 December 2007

The Search for Application Perfection

Back in 2004 I co-authored an article that asked, does the perfect intranet exist? Now, as the dust mostly settles around the firestorm about "sexy" enterprise applications, I wonder if the problem with enterprise applications is that the enterprise is looking for application perfection?

Of course in some enterprise situations system "perfection" is not only desirable, but essential. However, when we consider the number of large organisations running on uncontrolled spreadsheets, despite the known risks, this suggests that perhaps people are more willing to trade off perfection for practical usefulness than we think. BTW I think "sexy" is a rather poor word choice, perhaps something like "utilitarianism" instead? I mean, like twitter friend Martin Koser I've yet to find a sexy wiki either:

"Are enterprise wikis sexy? Most people don’t think so - but I think they get it wrong...Wikis soon gain “cool tools status” - just because they offer room for flexible emergent uses, coupled with great simplicity."

However, here is the ironic twist with enterprise software... an "enterprise" is really a loose collection of individuals, a complex system if you like. Unfortunately large, heavy and decidedly unsexy enterprise software is produced by large, complex companies to be used by other large, complex companies. And its why right now people in organisations can't help themselves from buying large, heavy enterprise software, yet they know they will also keep using a spreadsheet (or equivalent tool) to fill the gaps. This goes for the vendors too, who often "don't eat their own dogfood".

You can see where this is going, right? If you want sexy enterprise software, look for companies - both vendors and customers - who are prepared to change the rules. And in a long winded way, I find myself back to James Governor, who had a hand in stoking the firestorm that Scoble started, and I'll give him the last word:

"In the 20th century economic success in IT was established by raising barriers to entry. In the 21st it will be about lowering barriers to participation. Economies are networked, and the invisible hand is a great one for random acts of traction."

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