Post by: Sigurd Rinde

I can just as well be upfront about it and invite ridicule at once: There is no business / enterprise software that is first and foremost built to enable strategies, and thus could be termed "strategic".

Let's look at some characteristics that could help to discern the difference between non-strategic business software and potentially strategic business software:

Non-strategic:

  • First vendor question: "What is your problem, how can we help you?"
  • Focus on "how you do things", i.e. on efficiency, bettering the status quo.
  • Product names almost always includes the term "manage": Control, preside over, govern, rule, command, oversee, administer, organize, conduct, handle. Again no new ways, there is no effectiveness in the term manage, it's all about more control of the "how" we did what we did yesterday, and the day before - tweak the status quo but never challenge it.
  • A second strain of non-strategic software uses the moniker "productivity". Pure efficiency again, all well and good to do things faster, but there's not a whiff of flexibility in regards of the strategic "what you do".

Strategic:

  • First vendor question: "What is your strategy?" or "what are you doing and why?" as in “what value are you to deliver, to what customer, and how are you to be different?”.
  • Focus is on "what you do", i.e. on effectiveness and what can be done differently.
  • Product names? Hard to say as there are none out there, but I would venture that it would include process, run, operate - and hopefully no "management".

So when was the last time you met with a software vendor or a system integrator where the first question was "what's your strategy?" and not "what's your problem?"?

When was the last time you saw a business/enterprise software product sheet that talked about effectiveness of your whole company, not mentioning efficiency with one word?

I bet you, never.

Sheepdog

SMS - Sheep Management System

In other words, all current business/enterprise software is non-strategic in the real sense. And that's nuts, surprising, ultimately destructive, and abundantly obvious - not the Black Swan but a Neon Swan swimming in front of us.  

Why is it like this? Here's a possible explanation:

If your employees are disgruntled and demotivated the classic reaction is to add more positives to hopefully outweigh the negatives - more bonus, better food in the cafeteria, more "fun". Few will seek the root cause and remove that, "how" is more important than "what". If your product sales are low, first reaction is to lower the price and throw in a free cap, more positives added. Making a better product, challenging the "what we do" is not as easy as the "how we do things", like being more efficient so we can lower the price.

This has it's natural causes - finding the root cause for dissatisfaction might not be a nice thing to face, or even risk having to face - bad management, no-good strategy, that kind of awkward "truths". Any decision maker would shudder at the thought. So more fun, more food, lower price, bonus, more of anything nice is the way out. And creating a better product or service ain't done overnight, so grab those levers in sight and throw more money at marketing is the easy way out, you're after all the product manager, the manager of the current product.

Business / enterprise software sells to managers, don't ruffle feathers is the obvious choice. So business software is all into the "how", never into the "what". It offers more efficiency but not better products, more control of the status quo, but no new ways to do things.

This is why I think that most if not all current business software fails big time in it's ultimate purpose of making business better. And why a new kind of business software is needed - a strategic kind of software where "what you do" is way more important than "how you do things". Software where each vendor offer should start out by challenging the client's strategies, software where each component is designed for a single purpose; to enable a good strategy.

Original Post: http://blog.thingamy.com/sigs_blog/2011/08/strategic-software-vs-non-strategic-software.html