Scaling apps to an ecosystem
Is the whole idea of enterprise software end of life?
I knew it was going to be a long semester when the tutor of my business stats course, oblivious to the fact that the statistical software we’d be using was installed on each of our shiny new PCs, was coaching us in how to connect to the VAX minicomputer! That’s the problem with paradigms, they are really useful, until they’re not. For many years the computing power necessary to run statistical analysis was the big iron - mainframes and minicomputers. The local computer was just the way you got access to the real power. Our tutor had missed the paradigm shift that moved more power than people could have previously imagined, right onto the desktop. I could probably do the same work on my phone these days!
The current paradigm for the software we use at work is about big software. Monolithic applications that seek to be all things to all people at all times.
In our personal life, the trend has gone the other way. For every small need in our life - there’s an app for that. This specific focus has allowed great simplicity. With no opportunity to train the user and the threat of deletion ever present, an app just does the one thing it aims to do, as simply as possible.
A single focus often means I need to use multiple apps to get something done. Take this blog post as an example. I wrote it and published it using Tumblr. Tumblr automatically tweeted and posted a status update to Facebook. From Twitter, I simply add the #in hashtag and LinkedIn will pick up the tweet and post it to my status there.
For most of history, new technology entered the workforce and sometime later gradually trickled down to the home. The best tools we had access to were the ones in our workplace and the things we had at home were less powerful and less sophisticated. The rise of mobile computing has turned this on it’s head. Would you rather organise your documents using Evernote or your corporate records system? Does your workplace have a method for managing images as simple and effective as iPhoto?
It is possible we are on the verge of seeing large, lumbering suites of enterprise applications being replaced by an ecosystem of agile, focussed and very easy to use apps that all talk to each other. Or will the big software, like the big iron, quietly continue on in the background as something we use through an intermediary of lightweight apps?
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Just ask me anything to comment and I’ll publish your comments.
There is no best!
It’s all about fit for purpose. You just need to know what your purpose is.
When we are trying to decide what we should buy, ‘best’ won’t help us decide well. You could argue that the newest Ferrari 458 Italia represents the pinnacle of engineering excellence in a road going motor vehicle. This brings to mind two objections for most people - cost and fit for purpose.
Not many of us could afford the insurance on the 458 Italia let alone the purchase price. For a lot less you could have a Porsche 911 and still get pretty close to the same performance. For a lot, lot less you could grab a hot hatch from one of the more pedestrian auto manufacturers, something like a Subaru WRX; and still keep up with the Ferrari most places outside a race track.
But that’s where the real crunch comes - fit for purpose. Even if the price is right, if what I need is to do the school run and occasionally take the family and the inevitable couple of friends away on holiday, is a performance vehicle fit for that purpose?
Understanding your purpose is vital to purchasing well. This is especially important when purchasing software and IT systems generally. Understanding your purpose is vital to ensuring what is selected is fit for that purpose. Sounds straight forward enough. Right?
So why is it so rare to see a good set of requirements used in the selection process? In the last 15 years I recall seeing precisely 2 tender documents that simply and clearly stated what the organisation needed to achieve from the system purchase and associated project. The other couple of hundred documents I read were the equivalent of walking in to the car dealership and asking for a vehicle with four wheels, an engine, gearbox and a steering wheel. To be sure those documents went into excruciating detail for many pages about the precise shape of the steering wheel, its diameter, the preferred colour, the materials it should be wrapped in, the number of stitches in the wrapping… You get the picture.
Without a genuine understanding of your needs, every product being evaluated will meet the generic requirements. This makes it hard for the evaluation team and really puts the vendors in the driver’s seat. It often results in a product selection driven by a demonstration gimmick or the gee whiz factor of some over the horizon feature that may or may not be delivered and may or may not be useful.
If you have the folk inside your organisation to workshop, discuss, understand, prioritise and document the things that are going to make work better, give them their head and back their judgement. If you don’t, get someone in who can. Investing in this part of the process will pay dividends both now, in the selection of the most appropriate product, its rollout and for the next decade or more you’ll be using it!
One of our services is working with the key stakeholders in your organisation and utilising our experience on the other side of the fence, to guide your team in drafting requirements that will sort the market based on your purpose. Drop us a line if you’d like to know more.