A few weeks ago, I started to explore some of the things that frustrate me about Enterprise Software. After venting a bit, I got down to the fact that Enterprise Software vendors are facing an impending dilemma. As corporate decision makers begin to ascend from those who have lived their lives with computers in them, the rules about what is acceptable are inevitably going to change.
I also posed a challenge to look at Enterprise Software through the lens of an iPad application, and came up with the following “core principles” that #EnSW will have to start to follow to stay afloat:
- Easy to Download and Install
- Simple, clean, beautiful user experience
- Easy to Maintain
Okay, enough recap. Now to the task at hand. In this update, I’d like to discuss the first point, “Easy to Download an Install”. Keep in mind that the crux of my current experience is with SAP, so if I pick on SAP a lot here, it is what I know best today. Thinking about the user experience when downloading a major software package from SAP, first you must log into the SAP Support Portal. If you’ve never been there before, you’ll enter your username and password at least 3 times before it stops prompting you for credentials. Then you’ll go through some sifting and searching to find the right package. For SAP BusinessObjects BI Platform, (filed intuitively under “E” in the A-Z index because of a legacy name), you will eventually get to your download package. You can either try a direct download from the browser, or add the download to your SAP Download Manager basket. SAP Download Manager is a separate download in install if you don’t already have it, and at many customer sites such download manager tools are blocked by the corporate firewall. Sound easy yet? Nope. It isn’t. Now try and find a patch or support package. Go ahead, I dare you. 😀
Now, while much smaller in scale than the BI4 package, let’s think about SAP’s new tool, SAP Visual Intelligence. If you try to search for Visi in the SAP Support Portal downloads, you won’t find it. Instead of bashing SAP for inconsistency, let’s take a quick look at what is different and decide if it is for the better or not. The download for Visi is found over on the SAP Online Store. It is easily found with a Google search. You can download the trial right from the site, and purchase a key right from the site with a credit card. No Account Manager required. As far as a new model for downloading Enterprise Software, I think SAP is on to something here. The process is greatly simplified and streamlined.
Let’s consider the Installation part for a bit now. If you’ve ever installed BI4, you understand the headache I’m about to describe. It is cumbersome, slow, and hogs a ton of disk space. Patching is even worse. The installation guides often do not match what you see in the software (patches and version updates tend to move faster than the documentation). I freely admit that in the installation part, a 1-to-1 comparison of BI4 and Visi just isn’t fair. Visi is much smaller of an application, and installs very fast and clean as you would expect a small desktop application to do. But conceptually, BI4 should install in much the same manner as Visi. There is definitely room for improvement. Microsoft, for the most part, has this part down pretty well. Downloading their Enterprise Apps is fairly simple through MSDN or TechNet, and their installations are all consistent and relatively easy to perform, whether you are laying down a HRIS application, a server operating system, or SQL Server database software. Buyers of the near future are not going to want to have to have a PhD on staff to perform an application install. Documenting an overly complex process does not excuse the fact that it is overly complex. Enterprise Software is not typically installed on a whim, which some would also argue why the install process needs to be clean and fast if the implementation project is known months in advance. But who really wants to spend corporate dollars on the installation part of the project? Seriously. All that does is inflate the cost to implement and push out the ROI. A cleaner, faster installation makes a better argument on why to pick one vendor over another, because you’ll spend less to implement and make your money back faster.
Hopefully this will spark a little discussion. I think a lot of discussion is needed around these topics. I certainly don’t know all of the answers, and I’m just one opinion in a whole heap of ’em. So please, comment away and let’s discuss.
Next time, we’ll explore the Simple, Clean and Beautiful User Interface.