Austin Powers 2

Not long ago, I watched a CXO Talk video with enterprise software analysts Michael Krigsman and Ray Wang called “Saving the Dry, Lifeless Soul of Enterprise Software”. Their premise: Enterprise Software is BORING! Many would agree that they’ve got a good point.

If you’ve seen the Austin Powers movies, they’re a spoof of the early James Bond films. The story line is that dashing spy named Austin Powers travels back in time to the groovy 1960’s to save the world from the nefarious Dr. Evil and his henchman #2.

The Austin Powers movies romanticize the ‘60’s as an era of free love, wild parties and rock & roll. It was a time when you could be “dead sexy” even if you had bad teeth or you were (a bit) overweight. All it took was “mojo”, style and – ahem – maybe a little “enhancement”. 🙂 Well, in the enterprise software world, the 1990’s were our ‘60’s.

The first movie in the series, ‘Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery’, came out in 1997. Remember the ‘90’s? The running joke is that if you do, then you weren’t really “living” them. It’s the decade that brought us grunge rock, Friends, Nirvana and Bill Clinton – before Monica Lewinsky. Back then the U.S. economy was booming, the Web was revolutionizing our lives and we were on the verge of a technology explosion.

In those “good old days” of the mid ‘90s, I had just quit my soul-sucking corporate job working as a government contractor and scored my dream job as an ERP software consultant. I worked for Baan, then the #2 ERP software company in the market behind SAP. My clients were manufacturing companies, so instead of doing dry studies for government bureaucrats, I got to implement software used to build things like sports cars at Ferrari and buses at Blue Bird. Sweet!

One of my fondest memories was in 1996 watching Baan founder Jan Baan speaking to a packed house in San Francisco’s historic Palace Hotel about how ERP was going to revolutionize companies from the “shop floor to the top floor”. Although Baan was only around $1 Billion in revenue at that time, a fraction of the size of SAP, Jan liked to joke that SAP was the “Dr. Evil” or the “Darth Vader” of enterprise software. I guess he fancied himself the Austin Powers of ERP.

In Jan Baan’s view, ERP systems were going to revolutionize manufacturing operations by giving them the modern tools they needed to build their products better and faster. In doing so, it was going to improve the daily lives of everyone working in these companies. It was going to change the world, and I was the lucky consultant who got to deliver it.

It was going to be – dare I say it – SEXY!

For those of us in the ERP sales and consulting worlds, the ‘90s were our ‘60s. With the dot com craze, corporate profits soaring and Y2K looming, ERP software was selling like Starbucks. We all had what I like to call “the rock star life”.

It seemed as though big companies, particularly manufacturers, were willing to spend almost unlimited IT budgets to get the next new version of the software. Who cared if 1 million dollar budgets were now stretching into the 100’s of millions? Party on, baby – yeah!

Sometime soon after 1999, however, the dot.com crash and the worldwide economy hit the skids. The party seemed to be over and the hangover of the 2000’s set in. Suddenly those new “GUI” screens looked “so last century”. Functionality improvements were incremental, not revolutionary. Despite the direst predictions, Y2K was a non-event. Maybe the salespeople were still partying like it was 1999, I thought, but down in the trenches we sure weren’t.

Then, just when I thought Austin would succumb to the “fem bots”, ERP quietly expanded into “enterprise software” and started to enjoy a second renaissance. By the time Heather Graham arrived in the ‘The Spy Who Shagged Me’, enterprise software was starting to get “hot” again.

Here’s what led the “image makeover” of the industry:

  • Customizable web interfaces made enterprise software much easier to use and more attractive. In other words, Austin got his teeth fixed.
  • Business intelligence (BI) software advanced to the point where you could finally tap that “Fat Bastard” of ERP data and get some graphical analytics out.
  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM) modules were added that allowed easier order entry, sales analytics and customer service. Vanessa Kensington was nice; Felicity Shagwell was nicer (oh, beHAVE).
  • Cloud ERP systems made the capabilities of the big “on premise” systems available to small businesses – not just the fat cats and the squares. It was like Mini-Me 2.0.
  • Social collaboration software allowed folks to share information (orders, instant messages) easily throughout their social networks to quickly communicate issues or answer questions. Much better than the ‘90’s technology of e-mail or – horrors – paper!
  • Mobile technology put access to dashboards, reports and alerts on smart phones and tablet computers. Those leaky British sports cars of the ‘60s were replaced by BMW Mini’s.

So now, in the 2000 “tweens”, is enterprise software sexy again? I think the answer is a resounding YEAH Baby! Or at least it could be. This is the first of a series of blogs where I discuss how the enterprise software and ERP markets can continue to “bring sexy back”:

  1. 3 Easy Ways to Put Your Enterprise Software on a Diet
  2. 3 Proven Ways to KEEP Your Enterprise Software on a Diet
  3. What the Enterprise Software Industry Can Learn From Geico
  4. How to Avoid Spending $1 MILLION Dollars on ERP Software Selection
  5. Why “Rip and Replace” Your Enterprise Software? Re-face Instead
  6. How Enterprise Software Can Adapt to “A World Gone Social”
  7. 4 Simple Strategies for Enterprise Software Mobility
  8. How to Give Your ERP System a Makeover

If you’re a CIO today then you’ve likely weathered Y2K, belt tightening, the “Great Recession” (mostly) and vanishing IT budgets. Trust me, ERP years are like dog years. If you still have ERP software that you implemented in the ‘90s, it’s about 150 in people years!

At any rate, most enterprise software in the installed base probably looking like Frau Farbissina right about now. I’m sure both Michael Krigsman and Ray Wang would agree with me on that point. 😉

I think we can all agree that the door is open for enterprise software to get its “mojo” back. There a good signs that the U.S. economy is growing again. Corporate profits are up, particularly in manufacturing, and many corporations have built up nice stockpiles of cash in the 2000’s.

Some items that should on the C-Level “holiday gift list”:

  • Executive dashboards and reports delivered on mobile devices
  • Cloud ERP software that’s easier to deploy and upgrade
  • Social collaboration for sharing and “conversations” to solve problems
  • Data visualization and “big data” analytics
  • The Internet of Things (IoT)
  • On-line training and documentation
  • User experience (UX) enhancements
  • ….?

So, back to the original question: Is enterprise software SEXY? If you won’t give me that, then can it be? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

If you liked this blog and would like to check out some others, then here’s a sampling from our Performa Apps business blog:

I also write posts for LinkedIn that are both related and unrelated to this one. If you check them out, please feel free to connect to me and leave comments. Who knows? Maybe we could have some common interests.

If you’re interested in the topics of enterprise software, ERP software, BI, consulting, manufacturing and others, then I invite you to check out my new “community” website inforln.com. There is an enterprise software resource library with examples of work instructions, whitepapers, etc., an ERP software presentations library, videos and our new blog.

Posted by Dan Aldridge

Dan Aldridge is the CEO of Performa Apps, an ERP software consulting firm specializing in Infor LN and Baan. He has almost 20 years of ERP implementation experience. Dan has helped dozens of companies with their ERP software implementations and training including Carrier, Mercedes Benz, Snap-on Tools, Blue Bird, Flextronics and a host of other manufacturing companies. He is a serial entrepreneur and blogger on LinkedIn.

You can reach him on e-mail, About.me, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, Scoop.it,WordPress,Slideshare, Pinterest, and Facebook . His company Performa Apps is onLinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, YouTube, Scoop.it, and Slideshare.