If Innovation Doesn’t Scale, How Do Vendors Ensure Mass Adoption ?

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.


7 thoughts on “If Innovation Doesn’t Scale, How Do Vendors Ensure Mass Adoption ?

  1. “Scale” is a popular world these days. But don’t you miss the word “leverage” here?
    Anyway good read, cheers Otto

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  3. Vijay- Companies need to manage the challenge of technology and the new forms of collaboration it offers, in order to reap the most benefit. Crossing technological boundaries, embracing collaboration, promoting user communities, demonstrating the value of new technology, and driving factors behind the change are key to creating a new organisation, where open innovation prevails.


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  5. I’m not really sure what you mean by “scaling innovation”? I did have a read through your previous blog article and I think what you are really trying to say is better suited by asking the question the more obvious one “Can large Enterprise software vendors innovate?” Innovation is, in and of itself, not valuable nor has the characteristic of being able to scale or not scale, it’s just an idea or concept.

    I think the definition of innovation is fairly clear. Straight from Wikipedia:
    “Innovation is the development of new customers value through solutions that meet new needs, inarticulate needs, or old customer and market needs in new ways.”

    Furthermore, I believe innovation is manifested in two ways: either by a evolution (“old customer and market needs in new ways”) or a revolution (“development of new customers value through solutions that meet new needs”). What we largely consider “disruptive technology” is a revolution in what customers see as valuable. This is why things such as HANA becoming a data warehouse or the introduction of mobile apps into business is seen as disruptive…because the values for those customers has shifted. For example the early evangelists of SAP HANA were willing to ignore poor high-availability options in exchange for a highly scalable and performant database. People are wanting to do business on the go with their mobile devices at the expense of a limited feature set.

    I highly recommend reading The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clay Christensen. It explains all of this a lot more elegantly than myself. Quite possibly the greatest lesson learned from the book is the following: “The reasons why innovation often seems to be so difficult for established firms is that they employ highly capable people, and then set them to work within processes and values that weren’t designed to facilitate success with the task at hand.” I believe this largely to the be the reason large enterprise software vendors cannot innovate _at scale_ because scale requires processes, whereas innovation lacks process (and probably in most cases the goal is to define new ones). Christensen does offer a solution, which is basically “it requires a firm to supply a separate and distinct firm that does not have the same mission and goals of the existing one” (not verbatim, highly summarized). The Potsdam institute is a great example of how SAP did this with it’s introduction of TREX/HANA.

  6. I find this notion of large companies ‘scaling’ innovation introduces contradiction. Large companies can easily scale incremental innovation through the ecosystem. Disruptive innovation requires almost the opposite approach because it requires the company to build demand outside the ecosystem and scale by making the status quo business model obsolete.

  7. To scale innovation, you also need scalable technology and a scalable commercial model. The latter is often the most difficult for many large technology providers to deal with. Almost every tech company is obsessed with scaling large, but few take the time to consider how to scale small also. If you want ubiquity, that’s essential….

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