on the joys of enterprise software

I've been using several pieces of "enterprise" software lately - applications that university basically runs on. Until recently, I'd only been exposed to a small portion of Peoplesoft (and even then, only for processing extremely infrequent travel claims). But now… I get to use several apps. And they all seem to have something in common: disdain or even active loathing for the users. From the application that is deployed as a "web site" built using ActiveX controls so we have to use IE on Windows to even see it. To the application that manages all IT support activity, but is designed to use a rigid unresizable 640x480 web page crammed with tiny bits of data. Etc…

This started as a rant, and I was going to name names and post screenshots. But that's not productive.

The problem is that we've become so dependent on these applications, on the data they've collected over the years, that we can't possibly move to something else without spending a fortune to do so. The vendors know that. Once you're in, you're in. They don't have to care about the experience of the users. Actually, spending development resources on something as non-essential as "user experience" takes the vendors away from their core business. It's not like any of their customers are going to switch to an alternative vendor. Investing in the user experience would be wasted money, with no returns for the vendor.

I can see two solutions to this problem:

  1. don't use expensive enterprise software that sucks (seriously - every single person that uses each of the applications will go on at length about just how horrible and painful these things are to actually use).
  2. require some way to get our data out of an application, and into another. Data portability. This is parallel to the Reclaim project, but on an enterprise scale. If we're not able to own our own data, and to move it as needed, we're trapped and helpless. But still left paying some pretty significant licensing fees to the vendors for the privilege. That's not right.

I'm sure I'm missing some incredible value in the applications, but when I see a multi-million-dollar multi-year project just to upgrade our copy of Vendor A's Flagship Application from Version X to Version X+1, and everyone who touches the thing absolutely hates it, there's something wrong.

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