Enterprise software refers to the applications and software systems developed or commissioned internally by companies. They are either tailor-made from scratch or purchased from third-party vendors and heavily customized for an organization’s business.
Up until the mid-1970’s just about all software applications were limited to enterprises, due to the fact that enterprises were the only ones that could afford computers. Organizations such as Oracle, SAS and J.D. Edwards were the early movers when it came to delivering powerful database and accounting software solutions.
In recent years, cloud computing and Software as a Service (SaaS) offerings like Salesforce have shaken up the enterprise software space. Yet despite such innovation the traditional issues of developing and introducing an enterprise application into a business remains relatively the same.
Trends in Enterprise Software
Enterprise software is categorized according to the business functions they cater to. A key feature of an enterprise application is its ability to integrate data from different business processes for an organization. This is the reason an enterprise application is able to provide a holistic and real-time view of the entire enterprise.
Some of the major product categories and solution sets of enterprise software are listed below:
- Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
- Enterprise Asset Management
- Business Intelligence
- Accounting Software
- Master Data Management (MDM)
There are a host of other enterprise software categories that span multiple divisions in an organization and cater to a wide range of customer groups. For example, the SAP Business Suite is a leading ERP package that is used within a large number of industries ranging from aerospace and telecommunications, to banking and industrial manufacturing.
In his book “Enterprise Information Systems: Contemporary Trends and Issues,” David Olson, a renowned enterprise systems educator, stated that:
“Enterprise systems integrate a number of different applications, formats and protocols. In doing so, an enterprise systems allow companies to integrate many business processes, such as sales and accounts receivable.”
Enterprise applications add a degree of automation to the implementation of business processes as well as supporting tasks such as data analysis, data planning and data management. For example, the ERP system has integrated software modules such as sales, accounts receivable and quality management for communicating and sharing data.
As an example the sales modules within ERP systems include applications necessary to create and manage sales contracts, orders, and invoices. Essentially all of these modules consist of multiple applications that can automatically perform the functions required to execute business processes.
When transactions for a specific product type outpace the current inventory levels, an ERP system can automatically process a request for inventory as the demand grows. Enterprise systems also enable a business to reduce the manual input of data and lessen the cost of information technology.
However, there are always certain generic challenges while implementing enterprise solutions. Depending on the sector in which the enterprise operates in, the extent of complications vary.
Importance of Socialization
Appropriate training of employees is essential during and after the implementation of enterprise software. They should be comfortable using the enterprise applications or else operational inefficiencies will arise resulting in a lot of redundant work. It is also very important that implementation of enterprise solutions be done in stages. Trying to implement everything all at once will lead to a lot of chaos and confusion.
It is also essential for management at all levels to support such implementations. Management should provide direction to the teams behind enterprise implementations. Intervention from management is often necessary to make everyone agree on the same solution. In fact the success of a major enterprise implementation can completely hinge on the sustained commitment of leadership.
The end-users of an enterprise system may not feel comfortable using the system. Resistance to the new system can lead to a drastic dependence on IT specialists, or an under-utilization of the enterprise system. To avoid this issue, enterprises must focus on listening to users. There should also be a significant amount of initial training dedicated to users during and after the initial deployment.
Thanks to cloud and mobile technologies, enterprise software is experiencing significant disruption. IT teams can provide application access to thousands of workers all through the cloud. Employees can download and update software through custom app stores built specifically for their company.
As it now stands, we are on the crest of a wave that will alter the traditional approach to software in the enterprise.
Evolution of Enterprise Software
For the first time ever, Salesforce which is a cloud based software company, cracked the top ten list of enterprise software vendors worldwide. Once dominated by Microsoft, SAP, and Oracle, cloud players such as Salesforce are disrupting the world of software in the enterprise.
Software as a Service (SaaS) offerings that provide access to powerful applications in the cloud on multiple devices, are shaking up the approach to enterprise IT and business web applications. Workday is another example. Following a successful IPO in 2012, Workday has carved a deep path in Human Resource and recruiting software.
Companies like Salesforce and Workday pride themselves on the technical ease-of-use and aesthetic interface design. Such concerns were often sidelined by the traditional leaders in business software.
Salesforce CEO and Founder Marc Benioff, described his vision of creating the most intuitive enterprise software out there. And his strategy not only permeated the approach to software development and design, but also the very distribution model for selling access. SaaS models are emerging as the next iteration in software for the enterprise.
While logged into Salesforce, you’d be forgiven if you thought it was Facebook or LinkedIn. The interface is derivative of many social networks, which helps to minimize the learning curve for new users. There is even an app-store for integrating apps like Google Drive and an Apple Calendar or downloading custom apps that an enterprise makes available.
Workday, which specializes in HR software, modeled one of their newest products for recruiters by emulating the look of “eBay and Kayak.” The company also uses the SaaS model. For the most recent version, it took less than six hours to install for over 400 companies at once.
Computing Has Evolved, and So Have Users
Most technologists have heard of the Consumerization of IT, the Open Cloud, and the Post-PC era, but what does this mean for business users and enterprise IT teams?
When it comes to the average American, they understand and discern quality software experiences with serious prowess. Not too long ago, this would have been an amazingly incorrect statement. But as of 2013, the average American spends 60 hours per week on a digital device and the average household owns an average of four different devices.
For employees that use refined tools from the app stores for productivity and business, they will avoid poorly designed business software. While they will use the enterprise application for mandatory tasks, they may be using their own personal apps for other functionality.
New Model for Distribution
Even the way in which an IT team distributes applications across an enterprise, has evolved to become more intuitive and dare I say ‘consumer-friendly’. Dense spreadsheets, endless columns, and a cramped display for data-input fields, are no longer acceptable (if it can be helped).
While certain comprehensive applications require the ugly yet functional interfaces that are well-known to back-end systems. For instance, logistics systems cannot help but present information in the way that melds with existing workflows and a need for lots of data entry.
But even that aspect can be fixes through innovative design techniques, and approaches to things like ‘smarter transitions’ and user experience.
In a recent New York Times blog post, Quentin Hardy describes how “the new style of development is likely to make the products look more like consumer software.” He gives the example of Workday’s usage of their own application for searching internally for potential positions. Not only can employees easily search for available jobs, but they can share the job postings directly to LinkedIn and Twitter.
More and more, enterprises across all industries are seeking consumer friendly ways to make the most out of their business software.
Enterprise Software is Turning on the Sex Appeal
If you were a business and/or tech professional of the 80’s you would have marveled at the new found capabilities founded by Kate and Robert Kestnbaum as CRM would forever change the face of sales, and relegate that rolodex on your desk to the punch line of bad jokes heard over the chatter of holiday office parties. Likewise, if your heyday was in the 90’s or early 2000’s you would have salivated over the enterprise capabilities that came along with the World Wide Web. Either of the above mentioned technologies were sexy for their time, they made the enterprise sexy, and they made the people who were working on the cutting edge of these technologies feel… well if not sexy, then at the top of their fields. But somewhere along the way we stopped caring about the usability of enterprise technologies and started focusing on the sales.
For longer than anyone has really cared to admit tech information behemoths like SAP and Oracle have focused their efforts on hooking Moby Dick companies and issuing updates to their software every so often—which by the way, puts a huge burden on interior IT teams to integrate without stopping workflow entirely. Then the cloud came along, which has been a democratizing force in the enterprise technology space, and with the cloud came the proliferation of open source software—which effectively let’s anyone with the required skill set to build big, beautiful, and effective technology platforms. Just take a look at Salesforce. Owning over $49 B of the software application industry’s total market value, Salesforce is a “force” (excuse the pun) to be reckoned with and owes its success to not just partnering with whale companies such as Sate Farm, rather, Salesforce has grown significantly because of its focus on building customer centric products, and not just building the best client list.
And it’s the later part of the previous sentence that has made Enterprise Software sexy again. Building more efficient systems that make people better at their jobs is the name of the game when it comes to today’s Enterprise Software companies. This is in direct opposition to the way that many businesses interact with older legacy platforms—which are inherently hard to use and rely on UX dashboards that would make a novice analyst’s eyes bleed. So what has caused the shift in paradigm from making software platforms that only tech insiders would think are interesting or beautiful, to making platforms that appeal to a broader spectrum? We discuss two reasons below.
Company Culture Now Influences Product
In a now famous letter written by Airbnb’s CEO to his entire team entitled “Don’t F*ck Up The Culture” outsiders got a glimpse into just how important company culture is to one of the biggest and newest unicorn companies on the market today. If you were to compare this kind of cultural evangelism to pre millennial workers you’d probably find that this generation of employees are much more vocal about their opinions on how products should be made, and how companies should be run.
To back this statement up let’s take a look at a recent Wired article written Mathieu Turpault (the director of design at Bresslergroup). In it Turpault writes this:
“What most of the analysts I’ve read don’t get is that millennials are the first generation to truly live by its own set of consumer and business rules. As consumers, they expect the brands they follow to share their principles (much as Gen X and Boomers did before them). But as entrepreneurs, they’re also able to deliver on it.”
The fact that Entrepreneurs and companies in general now have the ability to deliver on customer expectations is owed to the fact that, with the advent of social media, consumers can legitimately put a magnifying glass up to the companies they follow. So let’s now take the above quote a step further and see how it translates to the enterprise. With Millennials now surpassing Generation Xer’s as the largest group in America’s work force it’s no surprise that much of the business software we use on a daily basis has a “Millennial” look to it. From applications such as Basecamp and Asana to Yammer and Slack, enterprise level software now owns a distinctive look and feel that’s indicative of the companies that make it. This would also indicate that company culture has just as much of a say in how and why products get made/designed, and with a new generation of builders that expect “sexified” technology in their own day to day products, it would follow that these same professionals expect to be able to build sexy technology too.
Need further proof that culture has an undeniable impact on the way Enterprise Software gets made? Take a look at this older project sourcing user interface from Oracle and compare it to this newer project management report by Basecamp. Now imagine that you had to guess which company brought in a margarita machine to help celebrate an especially great quarter, and which company didn’t celebrate at all.
Of course, just because Enterprise Software has become sexy again doesn’t mean that the industry is all about Margarita Mondays. The bottom line is that every business, from Enterprise level companies to startups have a massive amount of data to digest, analyze, and then put into action. You have to be able to juggle content strategies with product cycles while at the same time making sure that employee reviews get scheduled so that your workforce turnover doesn’t skyrocket. All this being said one of the biggest differences between today’s business world and the business world of Generation X and the Baby Boomers is the sheer amount of information that executives and managers have to analyze on a daily basis in order to make their companies more agile and more profitable.
Just take a look at Enterprise Software stalwart IBM. You’ve head the term “no one ever got fired for choosing IBM” and for many years it was IBM’s gigantic status in the tech world that made it slow to adapt. Today however, you’d be hard pressed to find a sexier analytics platform than Watson. Likewise other analytics platforms such as Tableau and Adobe’s Marketing Cloud owe their success to beautiful user interfaces the help users visualize complex data sources.
And while there’s still is a stigma that hovers above the phrase “Enterprise UX” the tide is starting to turn. User interfaces are key to businesses as disparate from one another as healthcare and finance—and many of the people who rely on these user interfaces have a limited amount of technical knowledge when compared to the developers and designers that build these essential dashboards. As Big data becomes more and more of the driving principals behind big business decisions we should see more Enterprise Software platforms that allows workers to visualize that data in a way that enhances user experience and makes employees more effective at their work.
For such an integral component of IT, enterprise software is relatively underrepresented in online media. Most of the deepest industry knowledge, it seems, is kept under a shroud of secrecy: Nobody wants to show potential clients exactly what’s going on behind the curtain, and the most valuable insights often provide the least mainstream value.
Here at Icreon’s Business Technology Insights blog, we see enterprise IT as a broad community of diverse perspectives. As such, decision-makers need to have a wide knowledge base if they want to implement new technology to its fullest.
While many online sources come in the form of blogs or personal websites that are a bit tougher to find, they can serve as invaluable destinations for news, editorials and reviews alike. Here are 15 of our favorite enterprise software blogs that run the topical gamut, providing some invaluable insights.
The Enterprise Irregulars team is a group of consultants, journalists, analysts, and other enterprise software specialists who offer frequent insights on business-friendly software platforms. The best part about this blog is the wide variety of specific insights that the staff brings from all corners of the industry. From current affairs, to cloud strategies and SaaS platforms, the Enterprise Irregulars cover it all.
ERP Software Blog
Enterprise Resource Planning software is one of the most daunting and intimidating types of platforms that any business can seek to implement. The ERP software is a fantastic, frequently-updated resource that sheds valuable light on what it takes to make the right ERP decision. The site also offers additional resources including videos, whitepapers, case studies and infographics.
Martin Fowler is an enterprise software design guru currently working for a company called ThoughtWorks. His personal blog is a smorgasbord of software development tips, but also includes daily updates about miscellaneous topics, including hardware reviews and photo galleries.
A Software Insider’s Point of View
R “Ray” Wang is Founder and Chairman of Constellation Research, and his “Software Insider” blog is a beautifully-designed one-stop shop for news, editorials and analysis of goings-on in the software world. The site offers some interesting and unique updates, and covers all types of business technology.
The TechSoup Blog
TechSoup is a go-to resource for non-profit organizations, and focuses specifically on the enterprise software issues that apply to their efforts. The TechSoup blog carries on with more insights from a wide array of tech professionals, all aimed toward the non-profit sphere. Regardless of budget or size, the blog is a great destination for organizations that want some added perspective.
CMS Critic Blog
CMS Critic is one of the best resources on the internet for objective, comprehensive insights on content management systems. From reviews to news and editorials, the site covers everything from Squarespace to Processwire to PrestaShop. Once a year, the site’s CMS awards add context to the quality of different platforms, and provide a great starting point for anyone seeking out a new CMS.
Fresh off a responsive redesign, the Econsultancy blog is a comprehensive resource for topics related to digital business. In addition to offering listicle-type articles, the site boasts whitepapers and other guides to help get enterprise technology on the right track. While it might not go as deep as some of the other sites on this list, it’s a great stop for learning about best practices—which are always relevant in the enterprise tech sphere.
Web Designer Depot
WebDesignerDepot is a design-focused blog, but it’s an aesthetically-pleasing, easy-to-use resource with a surprisingly deep business section. In a world where enterprise software design is becoming more and more important, WebDesignerDepot is both an inspiration for developers, and a helpful resource for designers.
Andrew Mcafee’s Blog
Andrew McAfee is a researcher who studies the impact of IT on businesses. Subtitled “The Business Impact of IT,” his blog is an immensely popular resource that mostly covers tech trends and seeks to uncover new discoveries. His most recent posts deal with the potential birth of Enterprise 2.0 – a new brand of enterprise technology that’s much more social and collaborative.
The Enterprise System Spectator
The Enterprise System Spectator blog might only publish once or twice a month, but it boasts some of the most in-depth posts of any site on this list. Here, you’ll find some great deep-dives into specific enterprise systems, with lengthy reviews of products and industry insights from site founder Frank Scavo.
The SmoothSpan blog covers SaaS, strategy, social, and cloud computing for execs and entrepreneurs. A majority of the insights come from the blog’s founder Bob Warfield, who muses about technology within the greater context of the enterprise. With a casual, colloquial approach, this blog a great resource for people who want to see the bigger picture without delving through a sea of convoluted jargon.
AIIM – the Association for Information and Image Management – is a community of IT professionals who focus on addressing the era of “Information Chaos.” Their Digital Landfill provides frequent posts that help companies minimize risk and maximize insight from the information they gather.
The SYS-CON Blog
Since 1994, SYS-CON Media has been an influential publisher of magazines, newsletters and news about internet technology. Their blog is updated on a daily basis, and includes a wide away of viewpoints from IT professionals. While it’s not as industry-specific as other blogs on this list, this is one of the best online sources for expert opinions on internet technology news.
CloudAve is an enterprise technology blog that covers a broader range of topics than its title might initially imply. While the site covers news stories, its specialty lies in interpreting the latest news in enterprise technology and offering a new viewpoint. With a comprehensive masthead, CloudAve gathers all kinds of viewpoints in a way that provides new and fresh perspectives.