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Why enterprise software is so shockingly bad

Enterprise software is bad because it separates developers from users. A chief complaint is that it serves the CIO rather than corporate users; ease of use is lost in development.

For the past few years, we've talked about the "consumerization of IT," which was a polite way of saying, "Enterprise software stinks and should be made easier to use."

I've rarely seen as concise an explanation of why enterprise software is so bad as this one by Michael Nygard on his Wide Awake Developers blog.

Nygard points to a troubling intermediation between the users of software and developers of software, offering four ways in which this is expressed:

  1. "They serve their corporate overlords, not their users." This is one of the problems I have with IBM software: it seems to be written for the CIO, not the people that actually work at the CIO's company. In other words, powerful central administration with end-user ease of use is forgotten. (Not that IBM is alone in this--it's just that I'm having flashbacks right now to when I was forced to use Lotus Notes.)
  2. "They only do gray-suited, stolidly conservative things." Simply put, enterprises too often get stuck in the mind-set that they employ a bunch of drones whose work consists of filling out expense reports. The real work is the creative interaction between employees, but it's the consumer Internet that has been tackling this problem, even though enterprise IT could most benefit from it.
  3. "They have captive audiences." Nygard doesn't offer much explanation here, but I take it to mean that enterprise software developers can get away with foisting lame software on the world because the competitive bar is so low. "Our piece-of-junk ERP system is not quite as junky as our competition's" seems to be the winning argument.
  4. "They lack 'give-a-xxxxness' ". Nygard identifies this as the most important characteristic: the love a developer has for her software and its application, and thus the time she spends making it sing. This hearkens back to the previous principles, however, in that it captures the apathy enterprise software developers may have for their products because they're writing for CIOs and cash, not users and public plaudits.

If this rings a bell, then what are we to do about it? I don't know. So long as the first order of business is security and administration, often taken to wacky extremes, rather than creativity and user-friendliness, it's unclear how anything will change.

Perhaps this is a generational shift. Just as President Obama chafed at having his BlackBerry pulled, perhaps we're entering an age where a new crop of CIOs will arise that demand that ease of use be as important as security, for example. It's not a matter of scrapping the "enterprise" in "enterprise software," but rather of shifting the argument to insist on considering enterprises as agglomerations of people, not droids.

And perhaps, just perhaps, open source can make things better by blurring the lines between developer and vendor, and developer and user. We can hope.

Follow me on Twitter at mjasay.