Webizens of All Ages

"It just has to be so easy to use that the adoption curve goes [straight up]. People vote with clicks." So observed Toby Redshaw, CTO of Motorola, in a panel discussion this week in Boston as reported by eWEEK.

Redshaw has a well-earned reputation for speaking in simple words about what makes a successful enterprise software strategy, including unsparing analysis of the dance between software buyers and sellers. At last month’s Software 2007 conference in Santa Clara, I heard Redshaw answer a question about on-premise software vendors being slow to move to on-demand models: he metaphorically replied, "You don’t get out of the heroin business when you have a bunch of addicts."

Oddly enough, when I went looking for other colorful Redshawisms, I ran into a humdinger from 2004: "Redshaw said buyers focus too much on frivolous software features as
the basis for their buying decisions and not enough on contract terms.
But that’s changing, he said. Big companies are becoming ‘unstupid.’" That comment appeared in a story that also mentioned an SAP exec’s statement that subscription-based software models were still "more hype than reality": it would seem that companies have spent the past three years becoming even more unstupid, and SAP executives have acknowledged that 2004 would have been a good time to be getting a lot more serious — a lot more quickly — about pursuing on-demand options.

But let me get back to Redshaw’s comment this week about ease of use, adoption rates, and the evident uptake of Web 2.0-type tools among users without regard to their age. "We didn’t have to train anybody; we didn’t have to explain it," he said — but he noted that (in eWEEK’s paraphrase of his words) "the higher up in the company’s hierarchy, the less social networking technologies get used." That can’t be good.

I wonder if most enterprise software choices are made by people who don’t themselves use that software. For example, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said this week that "I don’t do email. I’m a very low-tech person." That can’t be good for the DoD — and if anything like that is happening in your organization, that can’t be good for you.

The user-driven adoption of Web user interface conventions, and the multi-generation demand for the convenience and capability of on-demand tools, are real. It’s worth some effort to identify any cultural factors that might be keeping a developer’s clients from enjoying the benefits to be had.

June 22, 2007