The State of Enterprise Applications – Where We Came From

 

Enterprise applications used to be these huge monolithic silos (ERP vs CRM vs LOB) that took expensive equipment to support it and took eons to add features. They were hard to adapt to the ever changing technology landscape. Integrating them, with other applications within the enterprise, usually took a PhD months to years accomplish. Since they were usually slow to evolve, maintaining them meant career suicide for the developer assigned the task and when that developer left for green pastures finding someone new, with the required skillset, was hard and expensive. Then along came mobile and everyone scrambled to shoe horn in their silos so that their executives can carry around a tablet and feel productive. Further and further behind these apps fell as cloud technologies grew. Not to mention, as these legacy apps grew, features were implemented and forgotten, till these apps became bloated, behemoths.

Silos are bad. What more do I need to say. Enterprises of old gathered all this data within the silos marking it hard to make strategic decisions. Getting the whole picture required the data team performing data acrobatics to get all the data into a common taxonomy so that it could be analyzed. These processes were usually time consuming so it took a while for the data to become “actionable”, usually too late for rapid action. It then took a data scientist to make the data, and thus the applications, smart. Again, another time-consuming process to create, train and deploy data models. Changing any assumptions required the whole process to start over again. “Actionable” back then meant days, weeks, months or sometimes years. Granted in the beginning there was little data to analyze but that is no longer the case.

In the beginning, there were no user names and passwords. Then we had to log on to the computer. Next came the first enterprise app that needed access control and another username and password. Your boss asks you to do some of his work in the new systems and under penalty of death they give you their username and password and heads to the golf course. “Hey, we are using this new third-party system in addition our app.” Another username and password. “We are integrating with our new vendor….username, password!” “We got acquired, we are rich, our systems are not compatible, here’s your new username and password.” Pretty soon that sticky note under the keyboard is full and you have to switch to a college ruled note book using single spacing to keep track of all the usernames and passwords.

Green screen comes up, you type “Global Thermonuclear War” and you were off and running. Then came the GUI. How many textboxes, check boxes, buttons, graphs and other widgets can we fit on the screen. Oh, and the tab order is never convenient. Web is popular…gotta love it when you hit the backspace button, the page navigates back and all your work is gone. The user experience was never a concern when developing for the enterprise, who cares about users. The workforce gets younger, growing up with iPads in their hands, they see the forms over data interface and want to crawl up into a ball and cry. Not to mention the early mobile adaptations of these enterprise apps.

Developing these apps usually means spending months gathering requirements, a year building the requirements, more time testing, finally getting it into the hands of the users, only to find out the assumptions made last year are no longer valid. Not to mention throwing the “finished” product over the wall to the engineers that are going to support it without giving them any tooling to help them assess what is going on with the app. What you do give them is hundreds of pages of documentation that someone, who doesn’t want to do it, wrote. Of course, they don’t want to read it.

That pretty much describes where we came from. There are details that I skipped but you get the picture. So why do we look back at the horrors (first world issues) we had to endure? Obviously, it is important to understand the pain so that we don’t doom ourselves by repeating the mistakes of the past. I wanted to do it to marvel at the technological advances that have been made over the past 20-30 years that have made these early enterprise apps obsolete. The point is technology is change and rapidly. Enterprises, that were slow to adapt to change, have had to change the way that they look at the world. If they don’t adapt they will go the way of Woolworth, Border Books or any number of business that have gone under or are about to go under (looking at you Sears) because they did not adapt to the change. In the next post, I will look at where we are and then I will look at where we are going.

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