Marc Benioff, the ebulliant CEO of Salesforce has been at it again.
Writing in Techcrunch, he poses the question; Why isn’t all enterprise software like Facebook?" and sets out his thought on the matter - the next stage from the question that drove him to set up Salesforce; "Why isn't all business software like Amazon?"
Benioff's argument (and someone who built up an $8bn company from scratch is always worth listening to) is that all the information about what is friends and colleagues are doing is available instantly without any special effort on his part.
His thesis is that this idea needs to be brought into business. "We need to transform the business conversation ... Market shifts happen in real time, deals are won and lost in real time, and data changes in real time. Yet the software we use to run our enterprises is in anything but real time. We need tools that work smarter, make better use of new technology (like the mobile devices in everyone’s hands), and fully leverage the opportunities of the Internet"
And naturally, being the cnnsummate salesman that he is, Benioff can't resist adding a touch about Salesforce's own Chatter tool, currently in beta.
There are several points about this. First, Facebook works because it's the dominant player, BeBo and MySpace fell by the wayside. Does the world really need another social network - there have been many attempts to bring social networking to the business world: Yammer for example. And Cisco and Microsoft have both explored this area - but with little impact. The development of Salesforce chatter could be one of those toys that sounds good on paper but has little practical effect.
My old colleague Dennis Howlett is one of more perceptive and forthright commentators in the financial software (as well as being an ace curry delivery man) and has some cogent thoughts on Benioff's ideas.
Dennis points out, quite rightly, that having instant information isn't quite the same thing as having the ability to analyse in real time and that the deeper analysis which will help make informed decision will still take time. Althoughhe does concede that Benioff's point that software should be easier is a good one.
There are further objections. Dennis also draws out attention to another blogger, Charles Zedlewski who also has plenty to say on the theme, pointing out that Facebook was designed for entertainment and not productivity. He ends up by saying that Benioff should have stuck with the Amazon analogy as Amazon had the right business model to follow: find what you want, get out quickly and spend little time on the site.
I'm not sure that Zedlewski's right about this. When I go to Amazon, I'm deluged with messages asking me whether I've considered Book x or CD y. In fact, I can't think of a site that begs me to stay on it so urgently. And yet, it doesn't engage me in the same way as the likes of Facebook or Twitter engage me.
Which brings us back to Benioff's main theme: that we should learn to love our business software. I think that the comparison with Facebook is quite correct but I can see what he's getting at. The distinction between personal and business life is getting more blurred all the time and that distinction between business and personal software is gradually getting eroded too - we're a long way from that point at the moment - but in a world were more and more people are choosing their own laptops/smartphones and connecting them to enterprise networks and where fewer people are office-bound, breaking down the barriers between consumer and business software is the next logical.
And just so long as I don't have some salesman poke me at 2.00 I'm sure I'll learn to live with it.
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