Enterprise hits and misses - Amazon and Uber press their legal cases, while customers face the upgrade-or-transform dilemma

Profile picture for user jreed By Jon Reed February 17, 2020
Summary:
This week - tech gets political, but is the stagnation of innovation the bigger story? Two industry shows cancel as coronavirus' economic impact is felt. Customers grapple with the upgrade-or-tranform dilemma - will vendors listen? Your whiffs include (bad) personalization.

King Checkmate

Lead story - Tech gets political, but where is the innovation?

MyPOV: I'm part of a discussion group that keeps trying to talking about the enterprise and avoid politics. That's become impossible, as we saw this week via Stuart's The Amazon empire strikes back as US judge puts the Pentagon's JEDI project on hold...for now.

The gist: Amazon's deep pockets are up for a court filing or two (Amazon pulled $42 million from the "petty cash" drawer for this filing). But as this national security project hits legal delays, an election year political circus is sure to ensue finger-pointing will increase.

Meanwhile, Uber can't seem to be Uber without provoking skirmishes on the definition of employees and the future of work. Stuart's got the latest in Uber's framing of gig economy regulation in terms of personal freedom - an electorally-expedient spin that talks to the wallet? Next on deck: California and AB5:

US District Judge Dolly Gee in Los Angeles rejected a request - filed by Uber and Postmates - for a preliminary injunction to exempt firms from Assembly Bill 5 (AB5). The companies argue that the requirements of the bill to reclassify drivers as employees would add up to 40% to their operating costs, a rise that they complain is unfair and unconstitutional.

Uber as a defender of the people against government over-regulation? Election year brings strange bedfellows indeed. My view: Uber drivers don't see themselves as employees - and most of them like that freedom. But they don't strike me collectively as a liberated group either. A chance to force riders to endure esoteric Spotify playlists "new way of getting by somehow" - that's my current gig economy verdict. Does that qualify as innovation? Based on Kurt's latest, The Boring 20s? Is this new decade more about taming innovation than unleashing it? I'm betting his answer is no. Kurt quotes Ross Douthat:

Uber is an example of a major 21st-century company invented entirely out of surplus, and floated by the hope that with enough money and market share, you can will a profitable company into existence.

Douthat again:

Which makes it another case study in what happens when an extraordinarily rich society can't find enough new ideas that justify investing all its stockpiled wealth.

Is now the wrong time to say that Uber strikes me as a (mostly) big improvement over (legacy) taxis? No, it's not a company I root for, but I can think of far more absurd/bourgeois startups burped out of Silicon Valley. Still, Kurt's point hits home:

Tech today suffers from a surplus of gadgets and gimmicks and a shortage of transformative innovations that significantly improve the lives of those in either the developed or developing societies. For every development tackling significant global problems like technology for low-cost energy storage, faster/cheaper modes of long-distance travel or robotic construction systems, we get a hundred new smartphones...

Well maybe not quite so many new smart phones - given that Mobile World Congress succumbed to coronavirus concerns this year...

Diginomica picks - my top stories on diginomica this week

Vendor analysis, diginomica style. At Oracle OpenWorld Europe, Derek got plenty to parse, from AI to the customer empathy stance:

Den riffed on Oracle's empathy vibe, Oracle and SAP - going soft in their old age? He raises the kicker question: is this message consistent with what customers get from these vendors on the ground?

Meanwhile, I ticked off some vendors who like the adware on their site wrote about a vendor tackling privacy differently in Zoho takes their B2B data privacy stand - "We will not be part of this industry practice." But will it pay off?

Jon's grab bag - Chris parses a Capgemini piece on smart factories (Smart factories - driving the automotive industry into the fast lane); Stuart asks if the post office can survive Amazon given they have no working business model very stiff competition (Is the "unsustainable" US Postal Service doomed to be Amazon's next victim in the e-commerce economy?)

I took on a vendor I disagree with and got a great convo out of it: Is real-time customer feedback a dream, or a nightmare? My in-person challenge to HappyOrNot co-founder Ville Levaniemi. Finally, I thought was pretty good at sneaking in buzzwords. But nobody can top what our Martin Banks pulled off in Dynatrace expands its pitch at managing automated management:

There is evidence to suggest that the 'next big thing' coming down the road at CIOs is a significant shift towards cloud-delivered, containerised, serverless micro-services operating across highly agile multi-cloud architectures.

Thankfully, Martin decoded it all for us, but not before I got a nice win over at the bingo table...

Best of the rest

Waiter suggesting a bottle of wine to a customer

Lead story - Laggards, Logos, and Licenses: Inside The Enterprise Software Industry’s Upgrade Dilemma by Josh Greenbaum  

MyPOV: Perhaps provoked/inspired by SAP's recent decision to extend maintenance on the SAP Business Suite to 2030, Greenbaum unleashes his furrowed brow on one of the predicaments of our industry: how to make upgrades customer-friendly. And: how to ensure that customers aren't taken for the bogus ride of "Want to transform? First you must upgrade."

Greenbaum warns us that the "check out this logo of our latest customer to upgrade" typically has a disclaimer:

It's important to bear in mind that every time a vendor brags that a large customer upgraded to the latest and greatest, it's highly unlikely that customer has upgraded its entire infrastructure. Indeed, for many companies, an upgrade that is undertaken to support a new digital transformation initiative may only touch a small subset of the enterprise software systems in the company, leaving the majority still lagging behind the vendor's roadmap.

Greenbaum raises enough points to keep a bar full of analysts debating until last call, but here's the heart of it:

Here's the shocking truth about digital transformation: It's going to have to happen despite the fact that back office ERP systems are lagging behind the market's push to modern, cloud-based, multi-tenant systems. The customers have too much transformation work to do upfront – customer and employee-facing transformations –to make ERP upgrades a necessary first condition. Customers have little choice but to push the pause button on wholesale upgrades in order to actually transform their companies.

The forced march to upgrade based on artificially-imposed deadlines is a fail:

What I like about vendors' moves to extend the deadline for end-of-life or maintenance de-support is that the actions recognize the reality that customers need more time to plan their digital transformations at a pace that makes sense to them, regardless of what their vendor wants.

Agreed. I'm not going to launch into a multi-tenant SaaS purity rant here, but I will say this: if your enterprise software is hard to upgrade, it's going away. Not this year, not the next, but it's going bye-bye - along with the services firms that stake their profit on forklifting that software into "clouds" that are just data silos in an industry AirBnB. Greenbaum's argument that digital transformation has a pace independent of the reach of software vendors rings true. As tempting as it might be to sneak a caboose of outdated software onto the back of the customer's transformation train.

Honorable mention

Overworked businessman

Whiffs

Add another to the bloated list: Unsecured Estee Lauder Database Exposed 440 Million Records. Along with this comment:

Over the past several years, the discovery of unprotected cloud-based databases has turned into a cottage industry.

So after just enough delays to assure us all that we don't live in an oligopoly, some legal hurdles, a judge approved T-Mobile's acquisition of Sprint. Remember when T-Mobile and Sprint ads assured us that being a mobile upstart meant doing things differently, and pricing things differently too? I guess that was just an elaborate version of sour grapes - until they too could realize the energizing dream of becoming a telecom whale, drenching us all in 5G marketing spray.

In the "customer experience" industry, idealize the corner shop that always knew what personalized service meant. I don't think this is what we meant:

Almost makes me want to take back all my snark on customer data platforms. Almost. Though when it comes to personalization, Facebook always takes the prize for "greatest algorithmic overreach."

See you next time - unless the Ancient Order of the Hermetics meeting conflicts.

If you find an #ensw piece that qualifies for hits and misses - in a good or bad way - let me know in the comments as Clive (almost) always does. Most Enterprise hits and misses articles are selected from my curated @jonerpnewsfeed. 'myPOV' is borrowed with reluctant permission from the ubiquitous Ray Wang.