Monday, July 11, 2011

Do Software Companies Suck?

There was an article published on TechCrunch over the weekend which I got into some discussions in a few places about.

The article, titled "Building An Enterprise Software Company That Doesn’t Suck by: Aaron Levie who is the founder and CEO of Box.net.

Aaron is correct about the future, but the current world is not quite there. For every Salesforce, there is an equal amount of unknowns. Companies that need to roll something out around the world don't like to hear/see a small company is handling it nor do they want to commit to something that then disappears overnight.

There is also the premise that better feedback will lead to faster changes and more upkeep over time of new products. I have yet to see this in nearly any product we use, iPhone, desktop, Linux or whatever. Fixes/patches get done, but whole UI changes/additions? Not often.

My original read on this was a dumbing down of applications to users. While I may have taken this to the extreme a bit, I don't doubt that we all would like a 1 step expense form. BUt it just doesn't work that way...today. It is getting better.

When Arron says:
In the next generation enterprise software company, the customer support and services organizations are more important than ever before – committed to the success of customers throughout the entire life of product ownership.

Great, so we should all move into customer support because that is where the money is? Give me a break. When you pay your customer support people as well as your developers or better, then I will believe you. Zappos and Tony did a great job and I know his people love their job but at some point the average employee of any level of ability wants more.

When they want more, you come to the crossroads that says where do we get our revenue from? And that is where we are investing. Can the new generation of companies be the reverse of all those that went before? I'd like to think so, but Comcast who was out in front on twitter to start can't back it up with their own internal issues. Like not calling or mailing in real mail, when one's account is overdue.

Never mix up customer service with making money, the two go together but one side always wins, in the end. Can you do both together and keep the company afloat, maybe you can and maybe the next generation of owners will do it but so many things must change to get to that level.

Aaron obviously knows his history:
Try performing A/B tests on a Siebel system or Lotus 10 to 15 years ago, or pulling customer activity in real-time to drive product decisions. It simply wasn’t possible. Or, just imagine what enterprise software would look like if all enterprise vendors implemented Google’s 20% time, or quarterly hackathons?
That last line is the key and we would like to believe this is happening everywhere, but I don't think so. Jams don't do the same thing, although ideas flowing from these can lead to some breakthroughs.

I tinker as much as the next person but what companies say they do internally versus what they tell you to do as an employee are two very different things.

I worry because I see some of this as the dumbing down of the workforce. Others will say but it is great it frees you up to do more, and the simple apps do so much for you. But I do not want to have tons of apps to do so many things all over the place. I want apps that do work together and talk to each other and collaborate across the spectrum. And I know the difficulties involved in this and that is why this dream is still so far from reality in some ways. Standards should make this easier but every time a new standard is created more issues occur because not everyone holds to the full standard.

Makes corporates pull their hair out and that is why startups have a hard time breaking in to companies with established vendors. My friends in smaller companies that can move faster or be more flexible than MS or IBM or HP, keep going, you are on the right track. But so few are on that track at all it seems.

Lastly, I don't use box.net and have nothing but respect for Aaron and what the next generation is building for the future, I am caught in a world that still doesn't want mobile devices or even web apps to be used outside their firewall and the frustration of that attitude is not only bothering me but others as well.