One of enterprise technology's rules of thumb is to buy with your future needs in mind. Buy more capacity, more functionality than you need today to accommodate business growth. Nearly every vendor pitch you'll hear likely includes the word "scalability."
But how much scalabity do we need? I estimate I use maybe 2 percent of the features of the Microsoft Office program installed on my PC. Even if I became a spreadsheet devotee (so unlikely), I doubt I'd ever use more than 10 percent of Office features. Much of my work is done online, of course, but I don't think anyone at our company uses even half of the Office features available. Heck, I'd be surprised if anyone here even knows all the features. And I think our company is pretty typical in that respect.
That's not new, of course. It's what companies like Google and Zoho, which offer inexpensive alternatives to the Office suite, are banking on. If lots of companies decide they can get by with far less functionality in their productivity software, Google and Zoho stand to benefit. As Saugatuck Technology's Mark Koenig said when I interviewed him for a story about Google Apps:
Why pay for all those features if 80 or 90 percent of them aren't used? That's a real value proposition: Why are you paying for the other stuff, or why are you paying for stuff for everybody in the organization when there are only a few power users that need it?
Google Apps is one of the examples included in a Wired story called "The Good Enough Revolution." It makes the point that consumers now value flexibility and convenience in their products over high quality. In fact, the whole idea of "quality" is changing. Much of it comes down to letting customers who buy products, rather than companies that produce them, determine what is important. Thus, MP3 sales now outpace CDs and other music formats, despite the recording industry's rejection of MP3s.
Consumer technology offers the most obvious examples of "good enough." But the article mentions others more applicable to business, including cloud computing and e-legal tools, which help people minimize costly face-to-face time with attorneys for relatively uncomplicated legal transactions.
Two things made me track down the Wired story, which I had read more than a month ago, and read it again. First, this comment from a CIO mentioned in a recent SearchCIO.com story who had opted to switch from Oracle to a less-expensive database product:
Across the company, as we consider vendors and products, instead of always looking for the best, we are looking for good enough. And that is a reflection of the economy.
Then this morning, a post in which IT Business Edge's Mike Vizard discusses companies downsizing their ERP systems, a trend he (like the CIO quoted above) attributes to the sluggish economy. As he describes it, a slowdown in business has some smaller companies that used ERP software from Microsoft or Sage moving down market to QuickBooks products designed for business. He writes:
As the economy improves, it will be a lot harder for application software companies to persuade these customers to upgrade to more sophisticated applications because, from their perspective, the uncertainty of the economic climate means they have been burned once, so they are now twice shy.
I wonder if the realization that the software is "good enough" for their needs, rather than continued economic uncertainty, might convince some of the companies to remain with QuickBooks. I don't think it's a case of tech vendors offering too many features, as much as it is not offering the ones important to companies. Software-as-a-service companies are trying to capitalize on this, figuring that low cost, less complexity and speed of deployment may be more important to many companies than lots of features, especially for commodity applications.