The Enterprise, Apple, and Insufficient Ambition

The Premise: Anyone who creates technologies that aspire to have significant cultural or social impacts on the developed world has to focus on both our lives at home and our lives at work. Anything less is an abdication of potential, or a failure of ambition, and settling for less denies many people the chance to discover tools or technologies that can improve their lives.

I was struck by John Siracusa’s ‘Stuck on the enterprise’, which he wrote a few days ago. His assertion:

Sure, Apple makes periodic overtures in to big business. It even redirects to someplace sensible. But nearly every Apple product or service ostensibly aimed at enterprise customers can also be seen as a natural part of some other, “non-enterprise” market where Apple is strong (e.g., creative professionals).

Unfailingly, Apple markets only to the end user these days. … What Apple does not do is sell products to corporate IT that are meant for direct use by non-IT employees. That is, desktop PCs, and more recently, cellular phones.

Siracusa then goes on to list a series of enterprise desires for phones that he claims look “quite different than the iPhone”, mainly centering around manageability and predictability. This is followed by a contention that these aims are incompatible with usability.

This is, to be blunt, horseshit. It’s apologist blathering to cover up a failure of imagination and ambition. And it’s saying that people cease to become people when they’re at work, and are instead Enterprise Employees. These are the excuses that let the tech industry off the hook for failing to engage as many people as it should be.

This leads to an alarmingly wrongheaded conclusion:

[T]he decision to ignore markets where you must sell to someone other than the end user is pretty high-minded (for a corporation). It’s also perhaps the only way to ever create great products, products that customers actually love.

No, this decision is elitist and lazy. Here’s the truth: You can meet all the (reasonable) requirements of an Enterprise while still creating a product that delights and inspires the people who make up that organization.

In fact, you have to do so.

The only tools that succeed in an enterprise situation are those which are so compelling that people choose to use them in their free time. Look at email, instant messaging, hell — look at the telephone. These staples of business communication are so popular because they meet the “I want this as part of my life” threshold. They can even be so good as to inspire addiction, complete with withdrawal in their absence.

[Movable Type on an iPhone]

( If you create a tool as powerful as instant messaging, for example, you won’t be able to stop adoption in the enterprise — you’ll just need to add enterprise features. And to those who proudly point out that the iPhone is “too cool to ever go to work”, you can’t also claim that enterprise IT will have to deal with it because it’s popular. Unless you want to perpetuate the myth that we somehow transform into emotionless robots when we go to work, you have to acknowledge that Apple’s going to make more and more improvements to accommodate them, and that’s a good thing.

Of course, I have a dog in this fight. I’d advocated for years that blogging should be an enterprise tool, and helped my company ship Movable Type Enterprise, which was the first is the most popular enterprise blogging app around. I wrote a little bit about why in “Why do you care about business blogs so much?

For the normal people, the ones who kind of maybe have heard of blogs, but certainly haven’t tried them out yet themselves, discovering blogging as part of work will lead them to thinking about how blogs can change every part of their life. It’s just like the millions of people who first used a web browser as part of their job, or the people who had an email address at work or school before they ever signed up for Hotmail or Gmail.

When I talk to companies about blogging, I ask them how their Knowledge Management or Enterprise Content Management deployments have succeeded. And they almost invariably mumble a bit about “it’s sort of underperforming…”. This is the dark outcome of people trying to draw a line between who we are at work and who we are at home. You end up with shoddy, compromised products like KM or groupware. And the folks in IT aren’t unfeeling, tyrannical monsters; When I tell them “well, we’ll give you LDAP integration, but it’ll also have a UI that’s easy enough that people choose to use these tools in their free time as a hobby”, their eyes light up. They want to delight people, too.

That’s the truth of it — if you don’t change the way people work, you can’t claim to be changing their lives for the better. In the developed world, we spend most of our waking hours at work, and the impact is enormous. The success of PCs in the enterprise helped indirectly subsidize computers getting cheap enough to buy at home. The requirements for reliability and stability of a lot of enterprise software makes for better consumer user experiences. And of course, most of the shopping on eBay or Amazon or most of the ad-clicking on TMZ or Gizmodo happen while people are at work too. If the anti-enterprise advocates had their way, none of us would have web browsers at work, but we’d still be ideologically pure and stickin’ it to the man. Yeah!

Except we’d be sticking it to ourselves, for 8 to 10 hours a day. If you believe in a technology, like I believe in blogging, or you believe in a company, like many fans believe in Apple, then expect more. Don’t settle for compromises where we’re supposed to have crappy tools for the work we do — any good craftsman takes pride in using the best tools he can.

And above all, stop making excuses for the arrogant and exclusionary voices that want to limit promising new technologies to just those who can afford to pay for them at home, or who have the interest to chase down the latest tech. Everybody deserves to benefit from this stuff.