Why is enterprise tech so far behind consumer tech? Because it can be.

Brian Manning put it nicely in a comment to my post yesterday about enterprise software:

In my opinion, enterprise technology is WAY behind consumer technology for one reason: because it can be.

In a [B2B] transaction, one good salesperson (the “seller”) only has to sell one person (the “buyer”) on the value of the technology. Once the product is sold, the buyer forces their 50,000 employees to use that technology whether they like it or not. A good salesperson with a good deck can do this fairly reliably.

And a good account manager can typically retain the client for a while; employees usually get used to the product and rarely complain enough for the buyer to cancel the contract and force the seller to improve the product. As a result, an enterprise product can suck and still flourish.

With a B2C product, this is much, much more difficult. The seller has to sell 50,000 individual “users”, one by one, on the value of the product without the luxury of a face to face meeting or 18 holes on the golf course. The B2C model forces the seller’s product to “sell itself”. As a result, a consumer product can’t suck if it wants to flourish. It has be good. Much better than the enterprise product needs to be.

Fortunately, as I discussed yesterday, trends like cloud-based delivery (aka SaaS) are starting to align the interests of enterprise users and buyers.

The enterprise: buyers versus users

Why does most enterprise technology feel like it is a decade behind consumer technology? For the same reason our health care system is broken. The “user” isn’t the same person as the “buyer”. In enterprise software the user is generally a non-IT person but the buyer is usually, at least in part, the IT department.* (In healthcare the “user” is the patient and the “buyer” is the doctor or insurance company).

SAP bought SuccessFactors today, in a big win for “cloud” based enterprise software. The cloud might sound like a buzzword but is in fact a vastly superior architecture, not because it makes installation and updates easier (although that’s good too), but because it starts to remove IT from the purchasing process, meaning the user and the buyer are, increasingly, the same person.

* A corollary to this is that IT-related enterprise software, i.e. infrastructure, is generally pretty good.