I recently took part in a BusinessObjects BI 4.0 implementation. The first thing you need to do after the server is up and running is to install the client facing tools. With on-premise, non web based (note – part of SBOP is web-based) technologies this means you need to go through the painful process of doing initial installs and patching. It took a solid 4 days just get one PC up to the latest patch spec. YES. 4. FRICKING. DAYS. To be fair, if you utilize some of the web-based features, it’s just a simple JRE install and you’re up and running. But that’s just for one piece of the whole solution set. So obviously my first reaction to this series of events is “Holy Bloatware Batman”!
So how does software become bloatware?
This happens all of the time in Enterprise technology and is no way limited to SAP products. How often do you hear “God Windows is so clunky” or “This thing keeps crashing”? Companies tend to buy on features that can help them do their business more effectively or more productively. Yet, you won’t ever hear an Enterprise CIO say “Well it doesn’t do XYZ but it is the fastest on the market so we’ll definitely use it”. And why not? Because the performance of the application is often overlooked as a major feature of the software. Read Jeff Atwood’s blog article about “Performance is a Feature” if you want to know more of what I’m talking about. I believe this overall concept is some form of Absence Blindess in that we don’t see performance as a feature of a solution unless it is of course missing to begin with.
What I find more interesting than anything is that most people tend to get more mentally frustrated when features are missing than when core features not performing well. A good example of this is Pixelmator versus Photoshop. Photoshop is super clunky. It takes a good minute or so to load up on my Mac. Pixelmator is very lightweight and generally takes 50% less time to load on my computer. I also rarely wait for the functionalities of the program to load. However I miss Photoshop’s Layer Style functionality. So much so that I tend to be willing to just switch over to Photoshop because of that one feature. Otherwise I sincerely hate waiting for Photoshop to load.
Letting your customers outgrow you
The guys over at 37 Signals, owners of the popular Basecamp project management tool, have a good preventative stance on this: Growing In vs Growing Out. They say:
We’d rather our customers grow out of our products eventually than never be able to grow into them in the first place.
Why is this important? Because they are actively promoting their software to preventing it to become bloatware. They realize that if they had more features it will eventually turn there customers away. One way other companies have circumvented this is to build add-ons or apps that are very modular. Meaning the user can add and remove as they go. This is important because the company can focus on the core technology while letting the user chose functionality over performance.
So to the Enterprise technology companies out there I must say to please re-consider your bloatware and stop the feature creep. Why? Because as soon as your products become clunky, you begin to represent what most visionary entrepreneurs see as a “market waiting to be disrupted”. Don’t believe me? Just ask Microsoft about Google apps and SAP about Workday. It may not happen tomorrow but it will happen eventually. My generation lives in a Google world, get used to it.