21st Century Software
In the past 20 years or so, our interaction with — and feeling towards — consumer software has changed dramatically. If we look at what firms like Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook and many others have given us, it is a very far cry from the gray, gorpy desktop applications of old. There has been a sea-change in personal technology.
Some of the characteristics of this 21st century software are:
- Platforms, not apps — Leading modern software systems are built as a core platform with a rich ecosystem of third-parties adding value through their component applications or other services. Many firms come together to provide an unprecedented speed and breadth of innovation and ultimately value to customers.
- No-instruction-manual ease-of-use — It used to be cool to be the one who knew how to use that crazy complicated software. No longer. Just switch it on and it should be obvious what to do, or guide you reassuringly and intuitively through what you need to do. No need for an instruction manual. RTFM has become WDINAFM.
- Instant gratification — Gone are the days of ordering, buying, and installing software. Just use it immediately on line, or at worst hit a button and have it install seamlessly within seconds. And the services provided are also instant: go to Amazon, choose a new bike rack, click, and two days later it’s at my front door. No fuss, no muss. The Covid pandemic has accelerated this trend (among others) even further — now I order most of my groceries for delivery, which I did not do previously.
- Pixel perfect visual aesthetic — Apple led the way, the mobile world picked it up, and now all software is rapidly moving to a stunning visually engaging experience. Creating applications that people enjoy looking at and want to spend time with is critical.
- Search as navigation — Google showed us that rather than browsing for what you want, you can just ask the computer directly and it will serve it up for you.
- Answers not data — Rather than asking for data and then figuring out the answer, just ask the computer for the answer (or to do the complete task) directly. Don’t get into playing 20 questions with your users. See Siri, Alexa, etc. Cut out unnecessary steps.
- Open standards / open source — No more proprietary systems, no more expensive inflexible components from vendors. Open standards let different systems talk to each other sensibly. Open source gives us powerful building blocks that can be tailored to our specific software needs.
If we look at the world of enterprise software, however, we generally see systems that are still rooted in the software values of 30 years ago. There is huge opportunity — and need, frankly — for enterprise software firms to capitalize on the characteristics above to differentiate their offerings.