This time I can’t blame Sig alone, I have to include Malcolm and Dom and Don Marti, and their comments and posts over the past six months. Last night I meandered back to Don’s seminal post of many months ago, on Lightweighting, which I covered here.
Seeing the comments on my post last night, and thinking further about it, I felt it was important to try and understand exactly why lightweighting and opensource and agile programming and social software all have such roll-water-uphill problems in enterprises. They seem to share similar problem characteristics. Again, there’s a lot of rich literature on the subject, so I shall concentrate on just one small perspective.
The power of perception.
When you tell someone that their phone is now also a camera, they have no problem accepting it. They can pick it up and play with it and see that it has a Ronseal about it, “it does exactly what it says on the tin”. It is real to them. [An aside. I am definitely growing old. I cannot for the life of me figure out why someone would want a television display embedded into the facade of their refrigerator. Shades of reading Powerpoint on BlackBerry there….]
When you tell someone that their satellite TV is also a DVD rental shop and a video recorder, they have no problem accepting it. They can fight over the controls and delete unwatched recorded programmes accidentally to their hearts’ content. It is real to them.
When you tell someone that their PC is also a music player and a TV, they have no problem accepting it. Despite all the problems of DRM by accident and by design, they remain relaxed about the experience. In fact, given the traditional reluctance in households to learn anything about setting and operating VCRs in the past, they probably feel some familiarity in experiencing the failures. The experience is real to them. [An aside: I have been singularly uninterested in live TV on a computer, only in replays, and only of snippets and clips.]
I could elucidate more examples, but I think these are enough to underpin my simple point. It’s all about perception.
The examples all include some level of process redesign and innovation, some level of lightweighting, but they come packaged with hardware. And the hardware is real, people can touch and feel it. So the experience is real to them.
When it comes to software, particularly enterprise software, the touch-and-feel aspect is harder. True, we are seeing a move towards the purchase of appliances, where the hardware and software are integrated. But the appliances tend to get embedded in the “infrastructure’. And infrastructure hates lightweighting.
So how do people perceive value in software? Four ways:
- Lots of new hardware
- Big project/licence expenses
- Large teams
- High pain of adoption
Notice I carefully don’t state “People perceive value in software by seeing the measurable business value generated by usage of the software”. This-Page-Left-Intentionally-Blank.
Software becomes real to enterprise people through one or more of these things. When it comes to opensource, to process lightweighting, to social software and to agile programming, we have a problem. And if anything, the continuance of the laws of Moore and Metcalfe and Gilder exacerbate this problem. [An aside: is that why Bloatware is so successful? I wonder]
The problem is that the software isn’t perceived as real unless one or more of those perception triggers are set off. And we don’t want to set them off.
So what’s the solution? I have this uneasy feeling it’s going to be about hardware, especially when you look at the iPod phenomenon.
I think we are going to see all these things embed in enterprises over time: lightweight processes, opensource software, social software and agile development methods. But it may take a new generation of hardware and of platforms before that happens.
People buy the overall experience, like they buy cars. When we have desktop platforms which use opensource software as their basis, that come with agile programming and social software as standard, that support the lightweighting of processes seamlessly, it is then that we will have lift-off.
Our challenge then may become isolated to the design and architecture of these hardware-plus-firmware-plus-enabling-software platforms, concentrating on the user interface and look-and-feel and simplicity and convenience and usability and interoperability. Customers want to be able to touch and feel what they buy, and perceive value through the pain of acquisition. People like us want to reduce the pain of acquisition and adoption, but we’re taking away some of the ways customers perceive value as a result, and making our jobs harder.
People did not replace Britannica with Encarta, far from it. They replaced Britannica with a home PC, spending a similar amount of money to assuage their guilt, but getting Encarta wrapped in. The PC was real to them. Encarta was a useful by-product, a Trojan Horsed entrant to their home.
So if we want to embed lightweight in enterprise, we may need some heavyweight Trojan Horses.