The Software Distribution Generation Gap
There's a huge productivity gap between modern software and the aging manner in which most enterprises still distribute and manage applications on personal computers.
At a time when business models and whole industries are being upended by improved use of software, IT providers inside of enterprises are still painstakingly provisioning and maintaining PC applications in much the same way they did in the 1990s.
Furthermore, using these older models, most enterprises don't even know what PC apps they have in use on their networks and across thousands of computers. That means they're also lacking that visibility into how, or even if, these apps are being used, and they may even be paying for licenses that they don't need to.
To examine the ongoing problems around archaic PC apps management and how new models -- taking a page from the popular app store model -- can rapidly boost the management of PC applications, BriefingsDirect recently interviewed the president and CEO of Embarcadero Technologies, Wayne Williams. Wayne has more than 15 years of experience in founding and leading companies. He was appointed CEO of Embarcadero Technologies in 2007, and he is a former COO, senior vice president of products and CTO at Embarcadero.
The interview was conducted by Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions.
Listen to the podcast (33:03 minutes).
Here are some excerpts:
Dana Gardner: It's kind of ironic that, on one hand, we have software taking over in a larger sense how businesses are run and how industries are being innovative. This has been highlighted recently by Marc Andreessen in some of his writings. At the same time, the corporate PC, also driven by software, is still sort of stodgy and moribund, at least in the perception of how it's being used productively.
How is it that software is advancing generally, but PC software remains, in a sense, unchanged?
Wayne Williams: I've been asking myself that question for many years. I've spent most of my life in software, and I'm embarrassed to say that the industry has really done a poor job at making software available to the users, which is the fundamental issue.
Microsoft Windows is clearly the dominant PC platform, but it has fundamental design flaws, which sowed the seeds for the availability problem.
But that's only a small part of the story. Software vendors are so focused on building the next great application and on features and functions in that application that they've lost sight of what really matters, which is making sure that the application that you build gets used, gets in the hands of the users, and that they get their work done.
When I look at the PC industry and where it has come, the applications themselves have improved dramatically. I can't imagine being as productive as I am without Microsoft Outlook, for example, for email and calendaring. And Adobe Photoshop. I don't think you can find a photo anywhere that has not been edited with Photoshop. It's incredibly powerful.
But unfortunately, a lot of the gains that really could be made have been wasted, because it's very, very tough to get an application from a vendor into a user's hands.
Gardner: What do you think the real root problem is here?
Williams: The root problem is that software should move at the speed of light, yet it moves at the speed of a glacier.
Let me give you an example. In a mid- to large-sized company, if an employee is looking for a special pen for a new project, they can go to a catalog, take out a pen, and they can usually have it the next day, and that's a physical good.
Software is virtual. So it could and should move at the speed of light, but for many of our large customers it takes quarters to get software into the user's hand.
There's a whole host of problems that emanate from the root problem. You have an environment which is high-friction. It reminds me really of a state of manufacturing before the Industrial Revolution, where you had processes that were slow, expensive, unpredictable and error-prone. That's how PC software has operated over the last 20-plus years.
When you have an environment that is so high-friction, users will go around it. So you have this process with the PC, where IT tries to get more control and locks down the environment more, and the business users that need to get the work done find ways to get it done. ...
You can take a fairly simple device like a smartphone from Apple or an Android device and find and run applications literally in seconds. Yet you have this sophisticated PC environment with hundreds of billions of dollars worth of software sold every year, powerful hardware and processing power, but it's like pulling teeth for a user to get the applications she or he needs.
Gardner: Wayne, you and I have been around long enough to know that the way to instigate change in an enterprise environment is not necessarily to attempt wholesale radical shifts. You need to work with what's in place and recognize that investments have been made and that those investments are going to continue to be leveraged
Williams: As far as what's good and what can be retained, there's a great footprint of hardware out there, PC hardware. A massive investment has been made.
It's the same with software. There are tons of software, both licensed and built internally. And the internal part is really important. What I see from our big customers is that for every commercial app that they license they will have 10 that are built internally. And while there is very little visibility into how commercial licenses are used, there is some, but it's little. And there's zero visibility into who's using internally built software, for the most part.
There have been massive investments made in software, and unfortunately, a lot of the productivity that could have been realized hasn't been. But the good news is that it can be.
When I look at the opportunities, it's really two constituents, which you described. You talked about the user for a second and then you talked about the investment and what can be reused, and that's really management, typically IT management, which is centralized. Embarcadero's AppWave is about bringing these two stakeholders together.
If you look at mobile software, the friction between the user and the app is removed, and the results are fantastic. For us, that was a great proof point, because we started on AppWave before anybody had heard of the Apple App Store.
For PCs, the problem is much more difficult and it's much larger. Mobile software is about a $10 billion industry, and PC is somewhere around $300 billion. So the opportunity for productivity gains and overall results is much, much bigger, and the problem is much more difficult. Now, with AppWave the mobile experience -- find, run, rate, review -- comes to the PC. So the agile enterprise has tools to support it.