[FoRK] "Enterprise software" is a social, not technical, phenomenon (fwd from kragen@pobox.com)

Damien Morton fork at bitfurnace.com
Thu Apr 21 02:39:52 PDT 2005

whoa flashback to 1999: its gotta run on Vignette+Oracle else you wont 
get your VC money. bleh.

> ----- Forwarded message from Kragen Sitaker <kragen at pobox.com> -----
> From: Kragen Sitaker <kragen at pobox.com>
> Date: Thu, 21 Apr 2005 03:37:01 -0400 (EDT)
> To: kragen-tol at canonical.org
> Subject: "Enterprise software" is a social, not technical, phenomenon
> I posted the first draft of this at
> http://www.relevancellc.com/blogs/?p=36#comments in response to a
> query along the lines of "What would it take for Ruby to be considered
> enterprise software?  Transactions?".  It received some positive
> responses, so I thought I'd save a copy, revise it slightly, and share
> it with a wider audience.
> I wish I were online at the moment so I could add references, since
> this essay draws on the ideas of many other people, in particular
> "Enterprise software" is software that gets sold to a so-called
> enterprise.  Native English speakers might think an "enterprise" is
> something brave, noble, and dangerous, such as starting a small
> business, but in this case, "enterprise" is used to mean the opposite:
> the executives of a large, risk-averse company have chosen to flatter
> themselves by pretending that they're engaged in something brave,
> noble, and dangerous.  These "enterprises" use a lot of software, but
> most of that software doesn't get sold to the "enterprise" itself; if
> it gets sold at all, it gets sold to one of the employees of the
> "enterprise", who has the authority to spend $400 or whatever to get
> the software they personally use to do their job.  That's not
> "enterprise" software, because it's sold to an individual, not a
> so-called enterprise.
> "Enterprise software" is software that has to be sold to an
> "enterprise", where someone who doesn't use the software (typically a
> manager) must be persuaded to use his purchasing authority to buy the
> software.  It's different in a variety of ways from other software,
> but none of these ways are strictly technical.
> First, "enterprise software" costs more.  If software doesn't cost a
> lot, individuals can generally buy it themselves without managerial
> buy-in, although other factors may interfere; for example, everyone
> has to use the same bug-tracking system for it to work.  Getting
> managerial buy-in often involves expensive salespeople, whose
> commission comes out of the software's price, and managers everywhere
> have a well-known perverse incentive to expand their budgets.
> Second, "enterprise software" doesn't necessarily work, although
> sufficient effort can usually make it work.  An up-front $50 000
> price-tag makes it seem more reasonable to spend $1000 or $10 000 to
> customize it to your needs before you can use it.  In extreme cases,
> such as ClearCase and Oracle, keeping the software operational
> requires a team of expensive, specialized full-time employees.
> The nontechnical background of many managers, in addition to the
> perverse incentives in many managerial structures, often allow
> enterprise software to sell well even if it does not work at all, no
> matter how much effort is applied.
> Third, "enterprise software" is surrounded by consultants who will
> sell you the service of making it work, as explained above.  In some
> cases, these ecosystems of consultants are competent and highly
> skilled.  In other cases, such as the case of Java, many of them are
> spectacularly incompetent, vociferous in their ignorance, and prone to
> attack competing systems.  This results directly from the sales
> process for "enterprise software," in which expert persuaders gull
> technically incompetent managers into adopting the software.  Managers
> who aren't technically well-informed enough to select the software in
> the first place will also not be well-informed enough to distinguish
> between competent consultants and incompetent consultants, so both
> competent and incompetent consultants will flourish --- but the
> competent ones will eventually get sick of it and go elsewhere.
> I didn't really understand this until KnowNow, the startup where I
> worked, got turned into an enterprise software company by its VCs and
> management; although I had previously had the opportunity to observe
> most of the pieces of the puzzle, I had clung to the idea that
> "enterprise software" was technically better in some way from the
> software I was used to using.  It turns out that the differences are
> entirely social, not technical, and one of the major differences is
> that "enterprise software" is under much less pressure to have any
> technical merit.
> ----- End forwarded message -----
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