April 28, 2006 4:00 AM PDT
Web 2.0 meets the enterprise
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Instead, he recommended the "interpersonal enterprise" approach: New software companies should target individuals within a company with easy-to-use software that can be trialed for free.
People's familiarity with Slick consumer Web services, like Virtual Earth or photo-sharing site Flickr, are resulting in higher business-user expectations, according to analysts and software executives.
That means the design of business applications is more important than ever, said Joe Kraus, CEO of JotSpot, which sells hosted wiki applications.
"If I'm a buyer at a manufacturing company and I'm using Google Earth to look at the plants of my competition, and the Siebel sales rep asks me to spend $2 million on glorified database software, that causes a real disconnect," said Kraus.
Consumer-facing companies also live in a more competitive world, said David Girouard, general manager of Google's enterprise search business. An individual can switch from using Yahoo to Microsoft MSN with a few clicks, whereas a heavyweight software package or database could take years to unplug.
"Innovation is really being driven in the consumer market...because of Darwinism and the opportunity to make insane amounts of money if you get it right," Girouard said, citing Apple Computer's iPod as an example.
He argued that the enterprise search software designers and marketers are too isolated from the end user. If made more accessible, searching corporate networks could be as commonplace as searching the Internet, he said.
Social networking and tagging are also likely to be used increasingly by companies, Thomas Manes predicted.
Some experts contend that there is an artificial disconnect between business and consumer software design. In a blog posting, business author John Hagel on Thursday argued that corporations adopting a modular system design, called service-oriented architecture (SOA), should borrow the notions of simplicity and technologies from Web 2.0.
IBM, a major advocate of the SOA concept within corporations, is doing exactly that. Its QEDwiki project is specifically designed to let businesspeople with no formal programming training to assemble "mashups," Web applications that mix information from different sources, said Rod Smith, IBM's vice president of emerging technology.
For example, a person could track the effect of the avian flu on employees by mixing internal company information with public sources of data.
Microsoft, too, is trying to spot the areas of overlap among Web 2.0, SOAs and software as a service. At its Mix '06 conference in March, the company sponsored a workshop, called Spark, to find common technical-design patterns that can be applied for business and consumer software.
However, Smith said that a lot of Web 2.0 software still has serious technical pitfalls, like security, which should worry corporate customers. "If I'm mixing AJAX and wiki technology, I'm really creating a hacker's paradise," Smith said.
On the marketing side, appealing directly to the end user within a corporation has its limits. Chief information officers and others responsible for IT may get involved later in the software adoption process than in the past, but they should not be treated as some sort of impediment, said Kraus.
It's still early to tell how deep an influence consumer technology and techniques will have on such bastions of the enterprise software industry. But whatver happens, there will still be room for enterprise software entrepreneurs to take a spark or two of inspiration from the technology they use in their personal lives.
"Everybody is calling the enterprise software market dead," Kraus said. "But it's really not dead. There are just new models at work."
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