I have just been reading The Long Tail by Chris Anderson and one phrase in the book – Beneath Economic Viability – made me think about how current Enterprise Software requirement, design and development methods work against innovation – which is usually found somewhere in the long tail.
All the methods that I have used for requirements analysis work towards taking out differences in a process and trying to create a logical definition of a process that is modelled once and applied to the mass market.
We have all seen the impact of this on the acceptance of Enterprise Software. Some times we end up with a homogenised, bland solution that doesn’t quite fit everyone but does the job. Over time people work round the system running their “unique” processes in Shadow IT on spreadsheets etc. If we are really unlucky we get a solution that fits one set of users really well (usually those who were most vocal in the design process) and is a mismatch for those rolled in later who get no budget for changes.
Taking a lead from Chris Anderson we need 3 things to make sure that the long tail can be exploited :-
1) Democratise Production – We need to make sure that the tools to create new applications are widely available and easy to consume. YouTube is successful because ANYONE can create a movie now.
2) Democratise Distribution – Once you have created your application it needs to be easy to get it into the market place. This is what Amazon does to make 100,000’s of books available – some of which aren’t printed until you order them.
3) Connect Supply and Demand – With all the content that is available it becomes important to have ways to filter and connected related Applications. This is how iTunes drives recommendations for music you may never have listened to by analysing the community of individuals that it believes are most like you.
With the above in place it is possible to start to move the Line of Economic Viability so that the number of users for an application might only be small but the value it creates for them (and ultimately the organisation) can be large.
The good news is that many of the patterns we see in the commercial world are moving into the software world and the shoots of each of these traits is beginning to be seen…..if you look hard enough.