Enterprise hits and misses - return-to-office picks up steam (and critics), while SaaS software gets SaaD (Software as a Disservice)

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed April 4, 2022
Summary:
This week - return-to-office picks up corporate steam, but big tech companies remain cautious. Why? SaaS software gets a lambasting, but is it really SaaS, or SaaD (Software as a Disservice). Can AI manage AI, and is there an AI explainability workaround? Read on...

loser-and-winner

Diginomica picks - my top stories on diginomica this week

  • FemTech - the next disruptive force in healthcare transformation? - Cath examines an emerging healthcare market. Why the significant investments in this area? Multiple reasons, including: "Consumers are also much more aware of their health, especially in terms of preventing poor outcomes, so more people are looking for consumer devices to help self-manage it. Secondly, there’s an increased awareness that women’s healthcare has been excluded from much of the research and development in the health space, and this historical error needs correcting."
  • Is it time for marketers to have their own B2B operating system? -  Barb looks at a potential marketing disruption: "Metadata said the idea isn't to replace people but to take away the things marketers 'didn’t sign up for.' I personally like the idea of an operating system that can handle much of the technical, mundane tasks that marketers do. I’d much rather design a campaign than do the work of implementing it. But there are marketers, especially those interested in marketing operations, that did sign up for this work." Sounds like a wake-up call to me.

The 'Great Resignation' offers great opportunity for women in tech - Madeline on an opportunity that threatens to be an opportunity lost (5 million women lost their jobs during the pandemic; 2 million have stopped looking). Madeline shares a keeper quote from Jess Von Bank of Leapgen:

If you recruit diverse talent and you have not created the environment that can support and develop them, that deserves them, where they can thrive, where they feel judgment free, a safe place to contribute diverse ideas, you have to do the other work first or your diversity efforts are going to go unrewarded on everyone's part. Equity is your responsibility as an employer. Do that work first.

I've been jousting with "return-to-office-is-good-for-everyone" folks this week. Here's a quote from Madeline they should consider:

Offering true flexibility, with a policy of work from home as the norm, helps accommodate women, especially those in the sandwich generation caring for older parents and children. Just having the opportunity to take time away from work rather than having to rearrange school pickups or medical appointments, or deal with other family tasks can make a huge difference to women being able to remain in jobs.

Vendor analysis, diginomica style. Here's my three top choices from our vendor coverage:

  • Salesforce co-CEO Bret Taylor on digital agility and work in the Vaccine Economy - Phil gets into the future of work with Taylor. I thought Taylor's Slack comment connected some dots: "In part that's motivated our strategy around Slack. It really demands a new approach from CIOs and CTOs to really say, how do we connect the engagement with our employees with the engagements of our customers to make them successful?"
  • Workday strategy chief Pete Schlampp on digital agility in business and the workforce - Phil strikes again, with the topic of digital agility surfacing again. But as Phil points out, this goal changes how we define HR: "It's good to see [Workday] taking steps to bring management of the extended workforce into its core offering, although much of this remains a work in progress while the integration of VNDLY gathers pace."
  • In pursuit of General Intelligence - Dynatrace and the death of the dashboard - Tell me if this quote from Martin grabs your interest: "The need for ‘general’ AI to manage ‘specialist’ AI." Yikes! It grabbed mine, though further digging indicates this is not "general intelligence" as usually defined. Still, the notion of a broader AI managing dedicated AI workloads is a boundary-pushing idea.

Domopalooza in review - Domo unfurled a better-than-the-norm virtual user event last week - aka Domopalooza - including a very engaging analyst session (the kind of interactive session most software vendors are either unable or afraid to do, even after two years of pandemic life). As a result, we filed some instructive use cases, including a two-fer from Stuart. My piece lines up Domo's Data Apps news - framed by customer views and lessons.

A few more vendor picks, without the quotables:

Jon's grab bag - Derek explores a welcome trend in Shifting the balance of power - the role of bottom-up data institutions. Chris asks if the UK can sustain its quantum computing momentum in UK quantum leadership - beware the Ides of March! Neil asks a suddenly-pressing AI question: Can AI help to address the looming global food crisis?

Finally, Stuart revisits his old acerbic failed-data-policy-weary stomping grounds in After Safe Harbor and Privacy Shield, third time lucky for transatlantic data flow regulation? That'd be a definite maybe.. Can the EU and the US get it right? Stuart says hold the champagne toast: "The mainstream media headlines have hailed Friday’s announcement effectively as the end of the matter. It’s far from that. There’s a long, long way to go yet."

Best of the enterprise web

Waiter suggesting a bottle of wine to a customer

My top seven

Quality Hell in SaaS-Land: Is the SaaS Business Model Based on a False Need for Continuous Upgrades? - Josh Greenbaum shows no respect for the sacred cow of SaaS software in this scorching missive. I can't sum up his full argument here, but one theme is: just because you can upgrade your crappy software all the time doesn't mean it isn't crappy. Oh, and "free SaaS software" exacts a cruel price: user productivity, and perhaps, user sanity. Greenbaum's old whipping post, Microsoft Teams, factors heavily here, and rightfully so (I uninstalled the desktop version of Teams to stop it from upgrading me into dysfunction). Greenbaum writes:

We as a species hate change, especially change of the sake of change. Which is what a shit-ton of software updates and upgrades seem to be mostly about.

Teams is sort of the posterchild of this rant, because it simultaneously occupies two separate layers of upgrade hell: a layer reserved for those products that are upgraded continuously without considering the impact on user experience; as well as special, lower layer reserved for products that are upgraded continuously and are free!

Greenbaum's not wrong, but he's actually not writing about SaaS, he's writing about SaaD: Software as a Disservice. When your software is fundamentally flawed, compulsive "updates" brings the brick wall of failed UX smacking into you that much faster. Google is the poster child of SaaD, making ill-advised, algorithmic "herd majority" software changes, pretzel-twisted through its commercial/monetization agenda (example: having to disable Google Meet from automatically appearing in a freaking Zoom calendar invite, even if you are a paying Google Workspace customer). And: Google taking pride in its design chops the whole way.

But that's consumer SaaD. Is there a such thing as enterprise SaaD? Yes, especially on the low end - and Greenbaum is right to rail against it. But here's the thing: a mechanism to deliver software updates is not an inherently bad thing. You almost get a "leave my software alone!" vibe from Greenbaum in this piece, and believe me, I get it. But even if Microsoft Teams never updated itself, it would still stink. Same with Windows 10 and 11. The core problem, which Greenbaum does note, is lack of meaningful competition. Nothing improves crummy software quite as fast as competitors eating your lunch (and taking your customers).

But higher-level enterprise software, proper SaaS you might call it, doesn't update as compulsively (four updates a year are common). Of the hundreds of enterprise SaaS customers I've interviewed, most cited ease of absorbing new functionality as a key benefit. Yes, some of them talk about the challenges of absorbing the updates, but that's a distant fourth on the "problems with enterprise SaaS" list. Enterprise SaaS needs hype balloons punctured as well, and here's the top three:

  • SaaS turns out to be expensive (lifetime spend often exceeds on-prem)
  • Doing business with SaaS vendors, especially the large ones, isn't exactly a re-invention of the enterprise software experience. Contract negotiations and licensing is still legacy hardball.
  • Talk about APIs all you want, integration between vendors is far from a school picnic.

Now, I happen to know that Greenbaum agrees with these three points, perhaps more vigorously than I do. And he was under no obligation to mention them in his rant. Rants are rants. But I thought I'd do it here, and say: SaaD software is truly SaaD. But even mature enterprise *SaaS* has work to do - if it wants to achieve the "customer success" we're all told is being delivered - in each and every update

Overworked businessman

Whiffs

Just two whiffs this week: I scoured this news story, but failed to find the "re-invention" that was happily pronounced:

And, more fun with NFTs:

See you next time...

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.

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