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Friday, November 12, 2004

Weekly notes: Blown away

The wind of change is blowing for enterprise software, and the coming storm will overturn many cherished beliefs. Here are a few straws that I happened to notice blowing in the wind over the past week, which together illustrate some of the reasons why conventional packaged software is going to rapidly lose market share to on-demand services:

# On demand equals choice If you want cookie-cutter solutions, stick with traditional packaged software. If you want software that's customized to the way your business works, use on-demand. People have always assumed the opposite was true, and hence the myth has been perpetuated that it's on-demand software that delivers cookie-cutter solutions. But read Information Week's interview with CEO Marc Benioff this week and you'll see the tables turned: "Throwing app-building and customization tools at customers is simply outsourcing development to users, Siebel execs say, when what customers really want are custom applications built by vendors with expertise in their industries. Benioff insists customers want their own apps, not the same things their rivals use."

# Composite software is web-native Wise words from Jon Udell: "The idea that an application wears its state information on its sleeve, readily available for users to bookmark, modify, and trade, is an underappreciated strength of Web-based software ... The web's architecture is compositional. When you expose application state on the URL-line, to the maximum degree possible, users and developers become co-composers."

# Process is about people. If you want to improve your business automation, don't bother with software until you've looked at what your employees in your own business actually do. Speaking at DCI's BPM conference in San Francisco this week, Rosemary Baczewski, director of process and performance improvement at Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of NJ, recounted how her team identified a process that usually took 7.6 days to complete, according to a report in Information Week. They showed it could be completed in 45 minutes, not by analyzing it with a BPM tool, but simply by having two managers walking around the office with the claim. There's no substitute for direct engagement with the process.

# Packaged software is out-of-touch. Two Microsoft Australia managers interviewed in Sydney this week inadvertently lent weight to Adam Bosworth's recent observation that traditional software can't be as responsive to customer needs as online services. ZDNet Australia reports that Microsoft Australia's managing director, Steve Vamos, tied himself in knots while trying to deny that Mozilla's Firefox browser presents a threat to Internet Explorer's market share: "I don't agree that just because a (competing) product has a feature that we don't have, that feature is important. It is not. It is only important if it is a feature the customer wants. There are plenty of products out there with features we don't have. We have plenty of features that our customers don't use." Security and management product manager Ben English leapt in to argue that tabbed browsing, a popular feature that's included in Firefox, isn't something IE users are asking for: "I don't believe it is a true statement that IE doesn't have the features that our customers want. We take user feedback very seriously. If you have that feedback then you should feed it back to us because we will feed it to the product team." The problem with user feedback channels at Microsoft and all other conventional software vendors is precisely that they're filtered episodically through corporate gatekeepers rather than being continuously open to all on the Web. It's a completely different mindset.

# SOA sets you free. One of the hidden benefits for enterprises of moving to SOA is that they're no longer tied to the software they install. Ben Moreland, manager of application infrastructure delivery for insurance and financial services group The Hartford, makes a telling comment at the end of a Network World article about SOA adopters: "One of the comments we make to vendors in this SOA world is, 'the easier it is to replace you, the more we like you'. We want to have a lot of flexibility to pull in a new vendor without having a major 18-month application rework."

posted by Phil Wainewright 11:29 PM (GMT) | comments | link

Assembling on-demand services to automate business, commerce, and the sharing of knowledge

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