Few weeks ago, I posted my thoughts on n whether enterprise software companies can scale innovation . I was thrilled to see the quality of debate that this post started – with Thorsten Franz, Michael Bechauf et al jumping in to offer their POVs.
So my next question is – if you cannot come up with innovation after innovation, how do you ensure that the few that have real potential have massive adoption ? Adoption is what makes or breaks software. This is especially true for larger SW companies because they have to make up for the big overheads to remain profitable, keep the lights on existing stuff, and invest in new things. In no particular order, here are a half dozen ideas that come to mind. By no means is this an exhaustive list, but just random thoughts that have been in my mind for some time. Please chime in with your thoughts
1. Evangelize – but more holistically than today
This is easier said than done. Not everyone makes a good evangelist. Evangelists for SW have to cater to different parts of the ecosystem – developers, customers, partners etc. SW evangelists can use some models that seem to work in the world of religion. Evangelists do not preach to the choir – that is just a waste of effort. They are constantly trying to go from place to place and spread the word to people who have not heard the message before. Once people show sufficient interest, the trick is to make sure they don’t change their mind. But the evangelist – who is used to taking extreme stances for good effect on people who need a big leap, are seldom the right people to preach to the already converted. Otherwise, they will run the risk of many of the newly converted ones being put off by their efforts. So there is a need for someone else to take over and keep a steady influence on people who have shown an interest. Compare this to religious groups who meet once a week, and a priest talks to them in a language toned down from the one that evangelists use.
This second part is by and large missing from software evangelism. And I think that is affecting the way adoption is happening, especially with developers. Developers need to be evangelized a few times to get them excited, but if there is no follow up – they will drift away to the messages of the next evangelist.
2. Limit POCs that cannot scale by definition, after the first few are done
When new software comes out, you of course needs a bunch of customers to use it for high impact use cases. And by definition, these POCs are way too specific to be reused elsewhere. There is no way around it – it is a necessary evil in the grand scheme of things. The trick here is to make sure customers don’t look at these as science projects that can shut down the moment vendor team walks out of the door with declarations of victory.
These projects need to be tried out in limited numbers with your most loyal customers. But – set up expectations clearly and for the long term. Agree on what the customer will reasonably need to see for calling the results a success. And then make sure it means – if it is successful, they will take it to production.
This needs some organizational adjustments on vendor side. The black belt warriors who do crazy good POCs seldom have time or inclination to make reference architectures, maintainable code etc. Forcing them to do these will only decrease their efficiency. So I would expect a follow on squad to take up the job of making the project “production quality”, and build as much reuse as possible.
3. Don’t be penny wise, pound foolish – use the ecosystem
Enterprise software companies thrive on ecosystem – so use that to your advantage. No one company can hire enough people to do everything by themselves. There is always a tendency to think that you can make more money by trying to do everything yourself, especially when large amounts of money has been sunk already into products. However, this comes with the risk that adoption will slow down quite a bit. If business is shared with ecosystem partners – you can grow the pie, instead of dividing a small pie into really small chunks. Again – easier said than done. It takes strong sales leadership to take that long term view.
4. Talk where the action is
Existing customers have only so much budget to go around. And existing developers are already fond of you – so they are not running away in a hurry. So – rather than try all the new innovations on the existing base and build up an echo chamber, try to grow the base. This is very very hard – since there is the fear of the unknown. Recruit from places you have never recruited before. Hire consultants from areas you have never hired before. Attract new customers – even if they are only a tiny part of the revenue stream.
5. Software is a game of needs, not a game of wants.
Get better at portfolio management. This is a big problem for enterprise companies – they cling on to everything they ever created. And on top of that – they try to be everything to everyone. When there is only limited budget to go around – why is it that companies try to spread it really thin?
6. If you have money lying around, try financing your customers
Economy is in bad shape. Very few companies want to spend money now – they would rather wait for things to turn for the better before they let go of their purse strings. But if vendors are cash rich – try offering some financing to your customers who have good credit ratings. Not only can you move more product, you will also make some money from interest. Some companies already do it well – but most do not.