Scaling the Enterprise

On October 27, 2015, in HRExaminer, John Sumser, by John Sumser

photo of city skyline by Anthony Delanoix no attrib article by John Sumser Scaling the Enterprise

The other day, someone asked me why enterprise companies make such awful products. I’m kind of floored when my colleagues frame it this way but I understand how very far it is from the land of entrepreneurs to the universe of big iron.

It got me thinking about Oracle’s Fusion.

Here in Silicon Valley, making things work well at scale is something people think about a lot. In consumer transactional tools (apps, desktops, phones, retail) handling huge numbers of simultaneous interactions is the heart of success. The heart of the digital economy is the belief that massive volume is transformative.

In those settings, gaining volume is the essence of economic success.

Scale isn’t just about transactions and volume. Scale is where utility actually comes from. It takes more than a little while to scale a new technology.

That’s probably a little obtuse.

I mean that you can’t learn the things that are necessary lessons by simply announcing a tool/architecture/system. Development and launch are just starting points. Enterprise tools don’t achieve full utility until they have been used for a while.

Making something like Oracle’s Fusion (or any serious Enterprise Software) viable is like seasoning a cast iron skillet. Usage makes it better. It’s as if there were an equivalent of Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours for Enterprise software and the ecosystems that involve it. The stuff gets better because people use it.

For example, the way that errors are discovered is through usage. The more time the tool is in the field, the fewer errors a user experiences. While every legitimate piece of code is tested thoroughly, the user experience is theoretical until people actually use the tool.

Like consumer products, enterprise endeavors are never any good at the version 1.0 point. In all markets, early adopters carry products for the time where they are less that perfectly useful. ‘Viability’ comes after the product is good enough for people who are not early adopters.

In the Apple universe, they are called fan boys. In enterprise markets, they are loyal customers and people seeking a competitive advantage. People who join the parade early gain significant value but it comes at the price of some operational inconvenience.

It’s hard to call that viable.

The chattering class, usually people without significant engineering development experience, bring expectations that are not necessarily in synch with the way that technology is created. The cast iron skillet burns food in the early days of seasoning. Any maturing tool does the same thing. When people who don’t understand the process see this, they find it hard not to criticize the output. That adds fuel to the fire.

It’s harder to be an early adopter than it sounds. That means that the user experience of an early adopter includes more technical issues than someone who buys later in the cycle. It is not really surprising that they seem to complain more. They have more to complain about.

Birthing something like Fusion, which involves a rearrangement and reorganization of the entire business, would take time to mature. We’ve not really ever seen institutional transformation at this scale before. It’s taken a decade to get from vision to stable reality. That may be just what it takes.

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