I had lunch (at the fabulous Sanchos btw – love the fish tacos and tried a Mexican coke – they really do taste better) with my good friend and ex-boss, Henry Olson. He has an uncanny ability to think one step ahead.
After our usual ruminations about what went wrong at Edge, and whether we would have the smarts to detect it next time (and, more importantly, the courage to act), Henry made the observation that companies need to shift from product-directed thinking to market- directed thinking. You can’t force the product on the customer – the customer defines the product and what they need from it. We covered this in You Don’t Know What Customers Want – make sure the market is driving requirements, not your perceptions of what the market wants.
Not content with cracking this nut, and as we are both headed for Enterprise 2.0, Henry quizzed me on what’s next for the enterprise. He had observed last year that the SaaS revolution was in some ways a lot of same excrement with a different delivery method (i.e. paving the cowpath) and the gaps every one seems to be missing are between these disparate cloud apps. Will anyone see that this year? How do you solve user provisioning, application integration, and reporting and analytics with different data structures, and customer and product masters. At this rate, there will be a new wave of consultants earning their fortunes wiring all these disparate cloud apps together – SaaS middleware anyone?
I’ve already observed that enterprise software feels dead. The new wave of cheaper, better, faster SaaS solutions are chipping away at traditional enterprise software with point solutions. If we can stereotype who is doing this it’s unlikely to be the young bucks coming out of Stanford et. al. are going to fully grasp the challenges of enterprise computing, or otherwise be attracted to the relatively dismal world of B2B software. Far more likely is B2B point solutions will be offered by grizzled corporate refugees, who are more interested in building a tidy nest egg than changing the world (as we are led to believe the starry-eyed younger entrepreneurs are wont to do). This will most likely mean vertically- focused point solutions based on their experience. In other words, our seasoned vets are unlikely to take on the tougher, larger problem of getting all of these cloud apps to play nicely together.
Henry wondered if NetSuite is the answer (I don’t know – can anyone comment?) It would seem that we need a bunch of open APIs and standards to make these different cloud applications work together.
Perhaps consumer apps not just raising the bar but pointing the way to new enterprise models? Facebook Connect has been a brilliant success for outsourced authentication – but it has the tiny advantage of being used by everyone (well ~300 million anyway). As more people work for themselves and have greater autonomy they will make the purchasing decisions for themselves – laptops, productivity software, etc. This market neatly sidesteps the traditional software problems of long sales cycles and difficulty communicating with the user community. This won’t replace SAP, but it might be the right path for collaboration and other productivity apps.
What are your thoughts for Enterprise 2.0? How will the incumbents change and what new players will emerge?