The 4th Dimension of Enterprise Software

Charles and Miranda first met in art school in 1979. Over time, they realized a shared passion for handwork and the elegance of handmade objects for the home. Today, Charles Shackleton Furniture and Miranda Thomas Pottery, the workshops that comprise ShackletonThomas, consist of a group of individuals who share their philosophy.

Charles and Miranda think about 4 elements when creating an object:

  1. Design- the shape, decoration, functionality, and style.
  2. Materials- they select the best and most beautiful materials for design.
  3. Craftsmanship- the precision, finesse, and functionality for how an object is put together.
  4. The Fourth Dimension- “this is the element of design caused when the object is made by human hand or a tool directly controlled by human hand. All are imperfect, like the human that created it. But, the imperfections are beautiful.”

The fourth dimension is the crucial and final aspect that makes a piece of art truly great. “This is what gives life and soul to the inanimate object.”


Every incumbent player in the enterprise software market is facing a 4th dimension challenge. The first 3 dimensions are the nearly the same for everyone; it’s how they invest their R&D/SG&A across serving users, their existing clients/products, and a platform for the future. Each of these aspects has its own distinct competitive advantage. It’s best captured in the diagram below:

These are the 3 dimensions of a modern enterprise software strategy. While these are likely familiar to all, the reality is that most people in an organization, regardless of role, are playing in 1 or maybe 2 of these dimensions.

The fourth dimension is how you decide to allocate your time and expertise across those dimensions.


Let’s look at each in more detail.


This is how the world will see the company. These are the knowledge workers, data scientists, business analysts, and citizen analysts that seek a world where data is simple. Users will come for the service provided, but will stay for the network and collaboration. Competitive advantage is achieved here by enabling collaboration and a simple, elegant experience.


A platform has 3 attributes: 1) audience endpoints (users), 2) a marketplace (a common destination), and 3) a supplier ecosystem (a platform cannot be served by one company alone). Competitive advantage comes with data gravity; once data is in the platform, users are likely to stay and expand.


This is the franchise: the install base. The best way to take advantage of it is to create natural bridges between these products and the Platform. The bridge must come in the form of code and communication (how it’s positioned). Competitive advantage comes with stickiness of products, embedded in clients’ key business processes.


Enter, the Fourth Dimension. The fourth dimension is how you decide to allocate your time and expertise across these areas. Whether you are in support, sales, development, offering management, services, or marketing, how will you spend your time? There are 86,400 seconds in a day. Will you put all into one dimension or spread equally?

That answer is different for every person, but I know one thing for sure: If you decide to focus 100% of your efforts as leader or individual in one dimension, you will not be successful and neither will your company.

Time spent on cultivating users, will drive Platform usage. Time spent on the Platform, will bring more users. Time spent on products, will bridge to the Platform and create more users. It is a tightly intertwined dependency among all 3 dimensions. But, the fourth dimension remains the most important: You.