How enterprise software works in an à la carte world

Flextronics' David Smoley and Workday's Aneel Bhusri at GigaOM's Net:Work 2011The days of a company’s executive team choosing a few key enterprise software products for their entire workforce to use are basically over. Today, things tend to trickle up as far as enterprise software selection goes: Smart businesses are increasingly taking cues from their employees when it comes to choosing software and apps.

And it follows that the programs employees prefer incorporate the social and collaborative aspects that define the apps they use in their personal lives, according to an on-stage conversation between Flextronics CIO David Smoley and Workday Co-CEO Aneel Bhusri at the GigaOM Net:Work Conference held in San Francisco Thursday.

For business leaders, this new environment requires a willingness to improvise and being very open to change. “You have to be willing to continuously grab things if they’re interesting, try them, and throw them out if they don’t work,” Smoley said. “In a way, you have to be a ‘yes’ guy, you can’t tell people no.”

This flexible attitude is needed to get the most out of today’s workforce, which is comprised of people who are used to having control over the technology they use. “We’re much more intently aware at the highest level that every employee is first a consumer,” Bhusri said. “There’s this massive revolution happening in consumer Internet, social media, that is training people to use systems in a certain way. So when they get to work they also expect their systems to work in a certain way.”

The à la carte nature of collaborative software is not all rosy, though. There are often generational gaps that come to play, as well as integration pains. “Tools are very individually specific and team specific. One customer may want to use Cisco WebEx, while the next customer may say they want to use Skype. Often even within companies you’re constantly pinging between different tools,” Smoley said. “The hope for a guy like me is that all this will actually converge, and that unified communications will be unified some day.”

But the panel’s moderator Stowe Boyd, who monitors these trends as an independent analyst and as an analyst for GigaOM Pro, did not think that day would come any time soon. “I think continued chaos is more likely.” At least we will all continue to live in interesting times, both at home and at work.

Photo by Pinar Ozger.