There was an interesting blogosphere battle this weekend over whether enterprise software should be "sexy". One camp says there's much to learn from the consumer space about focusing on the UI and ease of use. The other camp says there are more important fish to fry in the enterprise and that powering business processes is "sexy enough". One of my favorite links in the whole debate was to a jwz rant about how bad groupware is. Some snippets in his description of what went wrong in Netscape's evolution from a simple email client to an "enterprise" solution:

We had built this really nice entry-level mail reader in Netscape 2.0, and it was a smashing success. Our punishment for that success was that management saw this general-purpose mail reader and said, "since this mail reader is popular with normal people, we must now pimp it out to `The Enterprise', call it Groupware, and try to compete with Lotus Notes!" ...

 

Now the problem here is that the product's direction changed utterly. Our focus in the client group had always been to build products and features that people wanted to use. That we wanted to use. That our moms wanted to use.

 

"Groupware" is all about things like "workflow", which means, "the chairman of the committee has emailed me this checklist, and I'm done with item 3, so I want to check off item 3, so this document must be sent back to my supervisor to approve the fact that item 3 is changing from `unchecked' to `checked', and once he does that, it can be directed back to committee for review."

 

Nobody cares about that ****. Nobody you'd want to talk to, anyway. ...

 

If you want to do something that's going to change the world, build software that people want to use instead of software that managers want to buy.

 

When words like "groupware" and "enterprise" start getting tossed around, you're doing the latter. You start adding features to satisfy line-items on some checklist that was constructed by interminable committee meetings among bureaucrats, and you're coding toward an externally-dictated product specification that maybe some company will want to buy a hundred "seats" of, but that nobody will ever love. With that kind of motivation, nobody will ever find it sexy. It won't make anyone happy.There were probably lots of reasons that the Netscape releases failed, but losing focus on building software that people love had to be a major factor. Fast forward to  an example from today -- have you ever met someone that actually likes using Sharepoint?

 

Another one of my favorite takes on this issue was Eddie Herrmann's discussion of the Enterprise Tyranny of the OR:

 

The enterprise question is not whether to choose between either process over people OR people over process. The answer is to be the genius that realizes that it can be both people AND process. Without this realization, you will see a change of heart in SAP's users of tomorrow that Dan talks about. If you leave people out of your priorities and omit them from your equation, they will find better tools to get their jobs done, even at the cost of your money saving, business process integration.Enterprise collaboration software has ignored the people part of collaboration for too long (which is pretty stupid isn't it?). In fact, it was an AND proposition that has made Clearspace 1.x so successful:

 

  • Its software that users love to use with features like wiki documents, blogs, and discussions, AND

  • It's software that works for the enterprise by combining all the next-gen tools in one product, providing integration with back-end systems, and by being available as on-premise software

 

Going forward, we're going to keep building out aggressively in both areas. But, it's people that have been most neglected by collaboration products in the past and we're out to prove there's a better way, which we illustrate with our positioning graph below. Look for an update from Bill next week with some hints about how Clearspace 2.0 will bring sexy back to enterprise software.