Look past the buzzwords for a truly rich application.
Posted Jan 18, 2005
Silicon Valley doesn't know how to build a good application, and has no incentive to try. The enterprise software business model depends on fighting constant feature wars, building complicated applications, and selling heavy customization services, to stay on top of buzzwords and make their numbers.
Most software companies--enterprise application vendors in particular--focus on technology and trends instead of consolidating customer requirements into useful and usable applications. Home-grown applications and heavily customized enterprise software can deliver on the specifications of each individual customer, but at a high price and without letting multiple customers benefit from each other's ideas. For vendor-supplied software to beat home-grown applications, it must be cheaper, easy to use, accessible from anywhere, and be useful out of the box.
I came to Silicon Valley in 1994 after 10 years of building custom applications for dozens of companies--from small startup law firms and service businesses to large supermarket chains and a top consumer software company. When I joined one of the big-three customer-service application vendors, I was shocked by the lack of application functionality in the product. The company had a reputation for technology, but the application side was just a toolkit for customization, with five screens in the whole out-of-box application. I assumed the problem was just us, but after studying many enterprise applications, I realized they were the same: limited functionality, poor UI, difficult to learn, and unusable as delivered. At this point, I realized how far I could go in Silicon Valley--my skills were unexpectedly unique.
Enterprise vendors are mired in past generations of technology and rely on obsolete sales models to victimize big companies that can afford to be overcharged. There's money to be made by charging separately for licenses, maintenance, and professional services--the holy trinity of invoicing. These vendors are often fundamentally incapable of moving to a hosted model, because it would cannibalize their core business. Meanwhile, most hosted applications assume customers are simpletons with minimal requirements--the features just aren't there. So they must announce and promote customization, with customers paying extra for features they needed in the first place.
No one should have to pay a fortune for a toolkit and another fortune to build an application. A vendor can build a rich application, covering a broad spectrum of departments for customers to choose from, and charge a fair price, with heavy customization being rare. Customers can have 80 percent of the features they need off-the-rack, and if they choose to customize, the sky's the limit. With a true hosted suite, customers start with a wide feature set and turn off modules they don't need, rather than starting from a minimal application and building the really important pieces from scratch.
Which approach sounds easier to you?
About the Author
Robert Gryphon is the founder and CEO of Airframe Business Software Inc. In 1997 he cofounded eCRM leader Octane Software, which was acquired by E.piphany in 2000 for a record price. Gryphon has worked as a software architect, database developer, network engineer, software consultant, and freelance computer writer, with 90 articles and a book on ODBC.
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