Saturday, May 16, 2009

Software that Sucks

Here’s a classic from the tech press that really caught my attention recently: 

“In the context of software, the word “Enterprise” has now officially come to mean software that sucks. Enterprise Software hit the nadir of suckitude (sic) at the launch of “Enjoy SAP”.  This is like the American Dental Association launching “Enjoy Root Canal”.  SAP is certainly an easy target, but let’s face it, “Enterprise Software” is generally a poorly integrated mess.  Working with Enterprise Software feels a bit like walking through an industrial landfill or an airport hangar.  Nothing is built to human scale.”

This was written on the SOA Center blog by no other than Software AG’s Chief Strategist Miko Matsumura.  His use of the techo-political term “suckitude” is one for the annals of our new post-TARP technology world.  If nothing else, the current situation seems to be facilitating proverbial “paradigm shifts” (namely, on-demand software) while encouraging more anti-status-quo “frank-speak” from industry figureheads.  I’m all for that. 

Because, notwithstanding all the pain, suffering and incertitude in the economy lately, one of the really brilliant consequences of this world-wide mess is that people are starting to say out loud what everyone’s been thinking silently for years.  Even in the sacrosanct enterprise software glass mansions, people who matter are starting to throw stones.  When major industry players start talking straight and using technical terms like “sucking”, you know the BS gloves are off.   I think established players, platforms and ways of doing business and thinking about customers are all up for questioning at this point.  Sunshine is the best disinfectant.

And speaking of gloves off, SAP and industry shifts, this old article from April 2008 refers to a slug match between two industry titans at the Churchill Club.  One is Marc Benioff from and the other Dr. Hasso Plattner of SAP fame.  There’s a video of the exchange on Youtube.  I know it’s a long one, but I assure you it’s worth watching entirely if you care anything about the on-demand versus on-premise religious wars of late.

I am not going to comment at length on the video as anyone can draw their own conclusions, but I did want to point out what I consider some key points, and throw in a few gold nuggets.  

First, the body language between those two guys is simply priceless.  It is more than obvious from the get-go that they can’t stand each other.  You can catch the vibe even in that one picture in the article (and throughout the video).  Benioff’s looking away from Dr. Plattner constantly (he fidgets with his wedding band incessantly), and Dr. Plattner is reflective in his own world as in “why the hell am I here”.  To my amazement, at the end of the video, they both reveal that this is their very first in-person meeting!  Incidentally, one audience member does ask Dr. Plattner at the end why he accepted to do this.  His answer: “for the challenge”.  Not sure what that means.

Second, the verbal jousting between the two is fairly aggressive.  I don’t think these guys have much respect for each other notwithstanding their pseudo-polite claims to the contrary.  If you asked me whether Benioff hates Microsoft or SAP more, I’d be tempted to say SAP.

At one point Benioff states: "We have been passionate about moving obstacles out of the way of the old enterprise software companies.”  I guess this is one major tenet of the on-demand adepts.  Power to the users!  In my opnion, Dr. Plattner really  does buy the on-demand proposition but not “religiously”, and either way, he can’t say it in public.  He knows SAP screwed it up in the past.  I’m not sure he believes in SAP’s ability to execute such a shift internally.  And I bet he wouldn’t mind buying Salesforce outright with one check.  He implies as much several times but then claims he doesn’t want to get into a bidding war with Oracle.  Hogwash.

Throughout the video, both contestants score evenly, in my opinion, on the arrogance meter.  I guess they can both afford to be that way, but it does take a certain piece of the “human” side away from each.  For Dr. Plattner, I think the Germanic personality comes through more than genuine arrogance.  After all, he doesn’t need it at this point.  The guy built and ran a $40B company.  Enough said.  Benioff often has this “do the right thing” Google-ish “morality” in several other interviews and videos.  But when you watch him in action here, the only thing that comes out is ruthless self-convinced warrior (it’s no coincidence his favorite read is Sun Tzu’s The Art of War).  Although conviction and the ability to back it up is noble (and key to business success), I’ve always feared people immutably driven by their own dogma (mind you, I actually buy into on-demand big time).  But as my high-school math teacher used to say “you can never shelter yourself from a surprise”. 

Finally, as I was lauding “frank-speak” earlier, I did want to point out that Dr. Plattner uses the term “shit” several times during the exchange.  Initially, referring to Salesforce grabbing Dupont from them he states “Why did he win DuPont?  Because we had a shitty CRM system, and he had a much better one.”  Then later, referring to a customer still using code Dr. Plattner himself wrote: “…Shit! There is a customer in America still using the code I wrote.” Then referring to SAP’s earlier attempt at on-demand CRM: “…Shit, yeah!  It was better than our CRM on-demand.”   I find that endearing.

To conclude, if you truly want to understand the ongoing (and upcoming) battles between the SaaS and on-premise proponents of the enterprise software industry, you owe it to yourself to watch this video or, at the very least, pull down the transcript. And bring some popcorn!




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  2. In my opinion SAP CRM 7 is also "shit". The interface is clunky and non-intuitive, the database / reporting is absolutely impossible, the documentation sucks, and it functions like beta software as you dig into it's "features".

    Want to modify something? Get out your checkbook b/c NOTHING is cheap once you've bitten the hook of this pig w/ lipstick. Maybe that's why they've lowered the license costs to compete w/ SF ... hmmm ya think?!?!

    Be wise, get TWO customer references from businesses the same size as yours before you buy.