If you work in an enterprise company, whether in telecom, automotive, manufacturing, textile, etc you probably experienced first hand the horrors of using your company’s proprietary enterprise ERP software.
ERP stands for Enterprise Resource Planning which in plain English means a bunch of bloated and connected software modules that link all company functions together under one roof. Things like HR, Ticketing Systems, Purchasing, Inventory, Sales, Ordering, Accounting, Shipping, Analytics. So you can follow a company’s product lifecycle through its entire supply and value chain.
Indeed it sounds good and useful when you describe what it does but in reality, when you examine the ERP’s dashboard, all you see is long forms with hundreds of fields to fill out that don’t hint very well to the type of data that you must input, and you easily get lost of where you are in the process flow without any guidance of what you are supposed to do next.
And God forbids if you try to pull out some information out of the system, be ready to spend half of your day doing that. It is so bad that people have to dump the data they frequently need out of the system into Microsoft Excel just to get anything done.
It is true though that ERP systems are sold with the best of intentions of cutting cost and simplifying workflow by automating everything. However, they end up creating more work than what they save.
So why is that?
Let’s follow the purchasing process in an enterprise to get a better idea.
Someone tells an executive to implement a new software system because that’s what enterprises do and it also happens that they have a budget they need to spend and if they don’t spend it they will lose it next year. So the executive, with his bonus on the line, writes up an RFP (Request For Proposal).
A sales director from an enterprise software vendor picks up the RFP, jots down a bunch of bullet points and spawns up a glossy presentation, makes some big promises, and offers to take responsibility if it all goes wrong.
The buying process usually happens over golf and dinner and a deal is made (usually in the seven digits range).
The sales director meets his quota, calls it a day and runs off to pursue the next deal. His job is done. What happens next is not his problem.
The project moves to R&D. Architects, designers, and developers of such corporate ERP systems will have little or no influence at all in what gets built, or why as long as the result meets the set of requirements that fell on their lap from above. They don’t even care because they are building for the buyers, not the users. And those who pay for the software do not desire it, and will never use it.
There are no UX (User Experience) teams that get assigned to work on enterprise ERP software. Requirements flow from someone who does not fully understand how everything works in the enterprise straight to the programmers.
None of the programmers get to talk to the users or ever hear their wish-lists or complaints. There are no incentives for innovation. Things like backward compatibility and legacy product maintenance make it very hard to innovate. All combined, it makes the work mind-numbing and boring for the developers and so, they can’t stay motivated to give a damn.
In spite of all this, the system does get built, because project managers want the deadlines met at any cost to get their bonuses. They chase the developers with a stick. Do what you are told, don’t break legacy features, you are not paid for UX or innovation.
And the software vendor ultimately gets away with it because they are the ones who do the integration of their own products so they have no incentive to not suck. They tend to have high levels of lock-in and they know their competitors have huge barriers to entry, so the competitive pressure to be good isn’t there.
And here you are, the customer, a user of another grotesque ERP system that was shoved down your throat by your boss to use it or else…
The net result is that corporate software is software that nobody gives a damn about: not it’s creators, not it’s investors, and not it’s users.
And those who figure out how to use it well feel attached and indispensable. Suddenly they are important in the company. They don’t want things to change.
Here’s a thought, enterprise software is so bad that it’s actually good for the economy as there are multi-billion dollar industries devoted to consulting on how to use it.
So if enterprise vendors are stuck in a cycle of churning release after release of mediocre hard to use software because they want to keep making money without breaking their legacy code-base, one might argue that the industry is ripe for disruption by new innovative and nimble startups.
Enter the Startups
Instead of reaping gold from disrupting core enterprise functions like purchasing or logistics, the core modules of ERP systems, we see generations of tech university graduates banging their heads on walls trying to figure out how to be the next Instagram.
The most talented developers and designers often simply won’t work on enterprise software. After all, you don’t want to work on something you would never use and have no personal connection to, and to make things worse, in the sharing economy we currently live in, if you’re working on enterprise software features, no one you know can use or see your work.
Again…What’s in it for me?
VCs could also be driving this but instead, they are all chasing buzzwords and trying to find the next AI-tech, Greentech, Fintech, Martech, or Socialtech unicorn to fund. Have you ever heard of Enterprisetech or God forbid, ERPtech? Those terms are blasphemy on Planet Startup.
So if it’s looking impossible for enterprise vendors to break the status quo, and the startup scene is too busy chasing shiny unicorns running in the wild, how do we move forward?
A New Breed of Innovative Enterprise Customers
Instead of putting the responsibility of innovation on enterprise vendors or startups, why not put it on the enterprise customer?
Especially because no technical brilliance will ever make up for a lack of domain knowledge.
We see a new breed of customer that wants to break the rules that no longer apply.
A customer whose general management team has a genuine and vested interest in making the company more efficient and the employees happy.
They want their employees to stop taking care of overhead and unnecessary paperwork. They want to move those employees to more revenue-generating functions such as sales and marketing.
They create a team made up of customer and vendor reps who work together to design the product.
They create a team of key people who will also be users of the software to represent every department in the customer enterprise and provide feedback on every iteration of the design. They get everybody’s buy-in before moving the design to the next step.
One might argue that this is a pipe dream.
Those customers do exist, and at simplicityEngine, we have been carefully finding them all over the world and working with them for the past few years to build ERP software systems that are intuitive and simple to use.
Are you one of those customers?