On enterprise software

There’s a great discussion going at the 37signals weblog, Signal vs. Noise, about the suckiness of so-called “enterprise software”. The post there was in turn inspired by Khoi Vinh’s piece, If It Looks Like a Cow, Swims Like a Dolphin and Quacks Like a Duck, It Must Be Enterprise Software which is also worth a read. Needless to say, Lotus Notes gets a good bashing in either the comments to these posts, or in the posts themselves (specifically, the advertising for Lotus Notes 8 in the Vinh article). On both sites the commentary delves into the essential issue at play when it comes to enterprise software: decisions around what software to deploy are rarely to do with the end-users, or with the technology itself, and come from wholly political motives instead.

In the Signal vs. Noise comments, aside from Lotus Notes, posters also focussed their vitriol on vendors like SAP, Siebel and EMC Documentum. I have had experience (direct or otherwise) of all of these (and others); there was a fair bit of resonance when I read the comments!

When I think of “enterprise software” I think of stuff that should be (a) resilient (i.e. clustered or at least employs some kind of decent fail-over), (b) scaleable and (c) reliable in the hands of users. Yet it is extraordinary how so many “enterprise” packages fail on one or all counts. Some examples (with no links! Bah, what a grumpy old man):

  • A web CMS that required a mind-blowing amount of costly software to do everything required in terms of web presentation—take a bow Interwoven.
  • A Documentum-based web publishing system that can’t be clustered and often falls over distributing content for a handful of small-scale static websites.
  • A SAP-based financial system that has the worst off-line client I’ve ever seen, both in terms of reliability and general user experience (Notes 4.6 is pretty as a picture compared with this thing)
  • An integrated questionnaire system that took over two years to develop using best of breed technologies, yet still didn’t do everything the original (Notes-based) system did

(Don’t get me started on the installation and configuration of some of these systems…)

Bracketing Lotus Notes with other enterprise software (as in Vinh’s post) is pretty ironic. On the plus side, when compared with more traditional enterprise systems, the framework offered by Lotus Notes & Domino technology is relatively cheap, extremely resilient, extremely secure, and oft-times just as scaleabale. It is also a platform that can be employed successfully, time and time again, to solve typical enterprise software issues (workflow, rich application-email integration, dynamic websites, RDBMS integration, and so on and so forth). Yet all we ever hear is Meh, Notes mail sucks.

Funny old world innit?


  1. Hey, I tracked over here after I saw your comments about there being good CMSes to use, rather than the bloated crap. I was going to email you mentioning my pain, and asking for your advice.

    Then in this post, you mention the very source of my pain - Interwoven. Sadly, I have to use that thing. I'm trying to understand why it even exists. I'm trying to understand why our institution chose this piece of crap - but can't get any answers whatsoever. Everybody just ignores the giant elephant sitting in the middle of the room:

    This does not work. It does not help anybody. It does not help us achieve our goals. It actively gets in the way of our goals. So why are we using it?

    Not only is the software expensive, it must cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost productivity - as it can take several minutes just to make a simple change to a page.

    If I am ever able to manage the unlikely feat of having somebody listen to me - what do you suggest as decent alternatives?

    Personally, I wonder why even bother with this browser-based GUI and filebrowsing stuff. Why not simply use something like Markdown, with a bunch of headers specifying parameters like where the page is supposed to be deployed, the keywords, and navigation stuff?

    Why re-create the wheel. We have mature operating systems that are good at browsing and manipulating files. We have great text editors and CSS editors. Why run everything from an inferior imitation of our OS, living within the browser window?

    Why not let the CMS manage content, rather than try to by a WYSIWYG HTML editor or bastardized version of MS Word?dishy#
  2. Kind of reminds me of Dare Obasanjo's "My Website is Bigger than Your Enterprise":

    Us software folks have a problem…we kinda' like our complexity. Okay we love it! but it can blind us to simpler solutions. Simple is easier to distribute. Distributed is easier to scale. Notes as just mail is too complex, but when all the other things are considered "(workflow, rich application-email integration, dynamic websites, RDBMS integration, and so on and so forth)", it can be the simplest solution. It can certainly be said of a well designed Notes app: "My NSF is bigger than your RDBMS\J2EE\*\Monstrosity".Dan Sickles#
  3. This bash-fest about other systems does not make any sense at all. Why do ruby-on-rails guys do not talk about ruby-on-rails? Who wants to see guys with green flag proclamating their prejudices about red flag guys?
    We are much smarter.
    All this anti.
    When I am bored or angry about my javaScript coding skills I go to our local anti-muslim village idiots site to talk about my great turkish or marocian collegues or I post some growth rates from turkish economy. Axel#
  4. This bash-fest about other systems does not make any sense at all. Why do ruby-on-rails guys do not talk about ruby-on-rails? Who wants to see guys with green flag proclamating their prejudices about red flag guys?

    Well, I don't really have anything to say about that - I'm just a user of one of those god-awful Enterprise software "solutions" that doesn't actually solve anything. It just wastes my time and causes mass frustration.

    I think the bigger issue of Enterprise software and why it is so bad is a worthwhile discussion - ignoring the platform it is built on. I don't really care if it is made with string and tin cans, as long as it works. But almost 100% of Enterprise software have massive flaws.dishy#
  5. Axel, I don’t perceive the original 37signals post as being an attack on other systems or platforms, just an attack on complexity in software generally, with enterprise applications trying to be “all things to all people”.

    OK, so we know 37signals are the guys behind Ruby on Rails, but I don’t see that as being particularly relevant in this debate.Ben Poole#
  6. I am not against critizicing unnecesary complexity of certain software. But if so why not in a to-the-point (don't know if that qualifies as English) way as Rod Johnson did with EJB?
    This kick-and-rush style to generally declare Enterprise Software as too complex does not lead us anywhere.
    Not allways but often the complexity has a justifyable reason other than historic design mistakes as easier deployment or more robust runtime. Axel#

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