Enterprise application software: analysis and 2019 trends.
More than seven years ago, Marc Andreesen, founder of NetScape and venture capital firm A16Z, penned his influential article, “Why Software Is Eating The World.” Andreesen argued that every business needs to become a software company.
Being a software company means you are a digital business, or your company is undergoing digital transformation to be digitally nimble. Much has been discussed about the former set of companies that were born digital—think Uber, AirBnB, or Netflix. I want to address the latter set of companies—enterprises that are not digital natives.
The sorry state of digital transformation.
According to Forrester research, an independent industry research and analyst firm, digital transformation in the enterprise is in a sorry state. The report finds that there’s reluctance to change in the enterprise:
It’s a war between old-school, technophobe leaders and the technology innovation that represents a completely different way of doing business.
We will see winners and losers amongst these two camps of leaders. The winners are defined by their ability to adapt and change with the times, and are generally transforming their business through technology. The losers are often those who decide to stay in the status quo and don’t adapt to the opportunities and threats presented by new technologies.
You don’t have to think too hard to see recent examples:
- Netflix replaces Blockbuster.
- Uber disrupts the taxi business.
- Brick & mortar stores like Sears, Walmart, and Barnes and Noble struggle against the online onslaught of Amazon.
So, what are the changes that enterprises need to embrace? Forrester cites the following technologies that in which companies need to invest to transform: software, the cloud, mobile, and other technology enablers.
Reimagine your enterprise apps.
Traditional (monolithic) app categories—systems of record like CRM and ERP—no longer meet the needs of today’s enterprise users. Business processes are changing and they are crossing process and app boundaries. As the line between consumer and business apps blurs, old categories like front-, middle-, and back-office no longer apply. Instead, data and processes must come together around user needs, delighting customers, partners, and employees.
Unite all your enterprise silos.
To transform enterprise apps, companies must bring together heterogeneous applications, databases, and services. We now live in a multi-cloud, hybrid world, further compounding this challenge. You must unify all your data, whether cloud or on-premise, into a seamless application experience — without performing complicated, expensive ETL processes.
Engage users at the right time and place.
For apps to succeed, they must engage and delight users at the digital moment of their choice. Forrester goes further: “Companies are faced with building multiple digital experiences and bringing them together into a consistent digital portfolio. These experiences must all come together to meet a user’s need when and where they need it and make use of all available context to deliver a contextual experience across the user’s ecosystem of devices.”
Enterprise Application Software: 2019 Trends
1. Focus on systems of innovation—no-code/low-code platforms are it.
Combined with process automation, these platforms power next gen enterprise apps. Systems of record do one thing well and the data and process is confined to one siloed area. Investment in systems of record will not help transform an organization to a digital business, and wasting significant developer time on these systems makes an organization susceptible to severe digital disruption.
2. Data integration is key to building next-gen enterprise apps.
Your next app is likely to combine data from different silos—heterogeneous systems of record, data in the cloud and on-premise, or different databases. Until now, the history of enterprise technology has unfortunately been about vendor control.
In the last century, systems couldn’t talk to each other without expensive integrations. Then, Tim Berners-Lee and company created the world wide web, with a standard way for all systems to share information.
This revolution transformed consumer technology, but has yet to truly transform enterprise systems, which are still dominated by proprietary technologies. So companies must still spend millions and years to integrate data from different systems before they can make use of that data. This has to change, because the time and expense creates a major drag on productivity.
3. Microservices architecture will power no-code/low-code platforms.
APIs will be key to accessing transformative functions, because APIs will help to democratize microservices and ever-higher-level functions, like advanced AI, serverless compute, and blockchain.
If every company is now a software company, then we need to figure out ways to push these high-level functions down to business users in easily consumable forms, because there will never be enough engineers to do this. We need to abstract away the complexity so every business can use these new technologies.
4. Rise of citizen developers.
Citizen developers—subject matter experts on process, workflows, and their data—can amplify the limited software development resources in an enterprise. They can quickly innovate, build the critical apps that power digital transformation, and then hand it over to IT to scale.
5. Design to value is the new metric for digital transformation projects.
One of the reputations of deploying enterprise business applications is that it takes a long time to realize the original vision of the app, and that by the time the custom enterprise app is deployed, that vision may have changed. Agile methodology was developed to overcome the limitations of the waterfall software development process. However, agile needs to be paired with a no-code/low-code platform to realize the benefits of the methodology.
I would also argue that value in a major software development project is not measured by the time it takes to deploy. That is a false metric.
The real key metric? Time to adoption. I’ve seen so many projects fail because the users find the software difficult to navigate and unintuitive.
Software should be delightful to use. Why can’t enterprise software be more like the consumer software we are so used to?
Design thinking (a discipline requiring an entire series of blogs to do the topic justice), while perhaps a softer skill/process, needs to be incorporated into any successful design and deployment of enterprise apps.
A call to arms…
Transformation is an ongoing journey, not an endpoint. With an idea of what lies ahead, how do you move forward?