The Letter I Would Like to See an Enterprise Software CEO Write


Josh Greenbaum's December 8 prescription for what enterprise software suppliers should do for the IT community during the recession is interesting but a little too Three Musketeerish for me.


To me, Josh's prescription is too much like what the auto dealers are asking for - except that you in IT play the proposed role of the taxpayers (at least in the U.S.). To be honest, I don't understand why Ford - which has already taken its lumps and says it doesn't really need any money from the taxpayer unless we actually enter a depression - has thrown itself in with GM and Chrysler.


However, Josh's creative idea of expressing his vision for the software industry in a hypothetical letter that a hypothetical enterprise-software supplier CEO should write to his or her customers is so good that I'm going to steal it. Here is the letter I would like to see some enterprise software company CEO write:


Dear enterprise-software customer:


I am happy to tell you that we managed our business wisely during the 2003-2007 boomlet, and we were also not harmed by the excesses of the dot-com foolishness before that. We will remain strong unless too much government manipulation of the IT and other markets around the world causes inflation and high interest rates such as we saw in the U.S. during 1978-1982.


We primarily want to bring software products to market based on our own R&D efforts and not via mergers and acquisitions that muddle your choices, increase our maintenance expense (which we would have to pass on to you, of course), and retard the release of new functionality.


Our software's functionality will be made available for use by you via multiple means that protect our investment in developing it but provide your enterprise demonstrable cost-effective transaction processing, collaboration support and personal productivity.


Those means include service bureaus, traditional software as a service, right-to-use licenses, modern software service providers, advertiser-supported distribution, and whatever turns out to be the most popular means of monetizing software functionality during the period 2011-2020. You can have it your way.


You can also acquire our software functionality directly from us or via any of many types of distributors. You would probably make this choice depending upon your industry and the size of your company.


We offer subscription maintenance and professional implementation/training services to complement our software functionality. However, we do not care if you use third-party maintenance suppliers or professional services providers who work with our software because we are in the software business, not the services business.


Increasingly, we believe you can use our software without the need for any outside services as long as you employ your own certified IT professionals at the specified but attractive ratio to total employees. Our software should be as easy to use as your phone system or electricity. But if you do want service, see the above two paragraphs.


As has been true for some time, some of our functionality is available open source, and some is free but not licensed under open source terms and conditions (Ts&Cs). Our embrace of open source Ts&Cs is not a philosophical statement but totally because we want you - both our partners and eventual end users - to increase the size of the library of code available to interoperate seamlessly with our code. Our embrace of the freeware concept is a marketing technique to get more and more enterprises to try our products.


I look forward to continuing to decrease your cost per transaction (or whichever metric you use to measure your return on investment in our software) over the coming decade in the same way I have in the past two decades. I don't want to be your friend, just a trusted supplier of quality software. All that "I'm your partner" stuff from my competitors is marketing gobbledygook and PR hype. Let's just both benefit from the adversarial market-driven relationship we have had in the past.


I guess my view of the market as expressed in my letter is the reason I left the marketing communications profession for market research years ago.