May 2012

Why I Don't Like Enterprise Software

by Steve Wortham

Enterprise software is typically designed for medium to large sized businesses.  Sometimes small businesses will buy enterprise software as well.  In any case, the idea is that it's sold in low volume at high prices.  But that's not what bothers me.

This certainly isn't a hard and fast rule, but in the majority of cases companies will sell support contracts along with their enterprise software.  This is because the software is so big an unwieldy that the client will surely run into problems when using it, configuring it, etc.

But to me, selling support contracts is the source of the problem.  The trouble is that once the support contracts become a large portion of their revenue, it really puts the company's motivations in the wrong place.  What do I mean by that?

Well there are two common reasons why a customer will call in for support:
1. They've encountered some sort of technical problem or bug.
2. The software has some major usability issues which basically means it's not as intuitive or self-explanatory as it should be.

Most of the time the company will put a high priority on fixing the major bugs.  Because those will really frustrate the customer and can give the company a bad name.  But I feel like the usability issues are often swept under the rug.  After all, if the customers continue to call support for problems, then they'll become dependent on support and will be more likely to renew their support contract.  For this reason, the balancing act of trying to rake in money from support in addition to software sales is really ugly.

So what do I suggest instead?  Sell the enterprise software for whatever price you need to, and then offer free support.  Either that, or offer the software on a subscription basis with a monthly fee and again offer free support.  Either way, this puts the motivation in the right place.  It's now all about making the software better.  It shifts the focus into making the software highly usable, easy to understand, and with great documentation.  And that's exactly how it should be anyway.