The problem with enterprise software, and how e-mail could help

Most enterprise software doesn't get used as much as it would if it were as simple and enjoyable as e-mail. Perhaps e-mail is the great encourager of participation within the enterprise?

A friend and I were discussing the state of software adoption yesterday. Our kids were floating down a river toward us, and we had plenty of time to talk about our respective companies as the kids kept repeating the trip.

It struck both of us that the problem with enterprise software is that it tends to forget how people actually work. Things like CRM, ECM, etc., tend to require users to change their normal behavior to fit the application. As a result, they tend to not get used, or at least not unless someone threatens to withhold compensation.

In the Web 2.0 world, Tim O'Reilly has spent the last few years advocating "architectures of participation" (meaning, as Tim further clarifies, that "users pursuing their own 'selfish' interests build collective value as an automatic byproduct" of their participation). But in most enterprise software, users must spin extra cycles to provide group value, e.g., they spend all day in e-mail or on the phone but then have to go to a Web page to record their sales activities in a CRM system.

Surely we're missing something.

Where do people spend their days? In e-mail, IM and on the phone. Yet most CRM, ECM, ERP, etc., systems don't really account for this. It strikes me that the biggest product for Microsoft going forward shouldn't be Sharepoint, which requires extra work, but rather Exchange/Outlook, which is where most people spend their time, anyway.

Why isn't Exchange the hub for ECM, CRM, BI, ERP, etc.? Frankly, why isn't Outlook a replacement for Word and Excel? Microsoft has serious financial reasons for not cannibalizing these other cash cows, but think of the lock-in it could achieve if it just centralized all (or most) enterprise software functions in the area that people are actually happy to invest their time?

E-mail.

If I wrote my document in Outlook, sending would be automatic and that much easier. If I received an e-mail with a document, I could automatically check it into a repository with one click to have it indexed and searchable throughout my organization. Perhaps I could train my CRM system to watch for any e-mails sent to or from a particular e-mail domain so that they are automatically captured in the system (most CRM systems can handle some semblance of this today).

E-mail becomes the easiest route to group participation, because few have to be goaded into creating and sending email, and because it should be possible to capture the information contained within that email to inform CRM, ERP, etc. systems.

I once saw a part of this demonstrated by CanyonBridge (now Bungee Labs), as it had Exchange seamlessly integrated with Salesforce.com and WebEx. It was very impressive. The company has moved on from that, but perhaps this is an opportunity for Zimbra? It certainly is an opportunity for Microsoft.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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