Situational Software – The ‘Killer Application’ for Enterprise 2.0?

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Ever since the spreadsheet was identified as the ‘killer application’ that justified the purchase of PCs for business use, the search has been on for the next killer application. Nowhere has this been more true than in the case of the Internet and the Web. Personally I reckon if there ever was a killer app […]

Ever since the spreadsheet was identified as the ‘killer application’ that justified the purchase of PCs for business use, the search has been on for the next killer application. Nowhere has this been more true than in the case of the Internet and the Web. Personally I reckon if there ever was a killer app for business it was the browser, which justified having an Internet connection. For me, the term Killer Application implies that the new capability is so uniquely valuable that you’ll invest in other by-products you don’t really want, just to get the Killer Application. What follows are personal choices to make the most out of the platform you now own.
This explains why a constant series of new but individual web capabilities don’t justify the term. However, Apple lays claim to the term for its iPod and iPhone purchases which were needed to get access to the iTunes Store and its App Store. Email is also a good example. Was it the Killer Application that changed working practices, or was it the other way round? You can hardly have matrix working without the support email provides, yet you can argue that cheaper matrix working justifies the business case for email, as it’s a necessity, enabling capability across an enterprise to support its working practices.

And this is what brings me to ‘Situational Software’ and ‘Enterprise 2.0’ as a definition of a business model and its associated working practices. We can thank Professor Andrew McAfee at Harvard for the origination of the term and its first definition, and for continuing to lead the dialogue that is refining the model. However, that’s not the topic for this post, and at the risk of upsetting those more knowledgeable than I, I’ll give my 101 definition so as to introduce my nomination for the possible Killer Application for Enterprise 2.0: ‘The ability to constantly and consistently interact externally with all aspects of the market from events, to customers, to suppliers, to partners, in a manner that allows opportunities to be identified and turned into optimised business transactions’.
Other aspects are also often referenced and can be summed up as selling ‘less of more’, providing increased differentiation and flexibility of products in order to flex to events and opportunities. This opposes the traditional business mantra of ‘more of less’. The business model approach could be summed up as an organisational model that takes matrix to new levels of extreme flexibility and the optimised use of peoples’ knowledge and experience. Without consciously adopting this model, many organisations are in fact moving in this direction already, perhaps hastened by the downturn in their traditional markets. And the traditional tool of email simply isn’t up to the job, hence the rising use of official and unofficial social networking tools.
There are of course ‘traditional’ collaboration tools, and jolly fine some of them are as well. But they also come with ‘traditional IT’ in terms of justification, time to implement and maintain, etc. At the same time their biggest virtue, structured working, is also their biggest weakness, for just as with content itself, the shift has been to unstructured working, and structured collaboration tools take too long to be changed for each new event and activity.
Enter ‘Situational Software’ as my nomination for the Killer Application to enable this kind of Enterprise 2.0 working. For more background on this, take a look here. What’s required is the capability for work teams to use their greater ‘Web’ technology know-how to produce their own working team environment as a constantly changing work space that suits the people and events that inevitably come and go. Simultaneously, at the enterprise level there needs to be a recognisable structure and connection to ensure that the enterprise can function properly and not risk falling apart: as indeed some enterprises did in the early nineties due to the way users drove PC adoption and use. Think spreadsheets. Users can build their own; project teams can build their own; but at the same time templates can be provided for the key elements so there is consistency across the enterprise. Even automatically undated links can be incorporated.
In Situational Software, it’s much the same as there are a number of vendors such as Zoho, Coghead, Caspio, Longjump, Rollbase, who supply the framework that enables users to rapidly and simply construct the working environment they need. At the same time, they can constantly adapt it, but the presence of the framework provides stability and reliability for the resulting environment and the standardisation of any core aspects to support enterprise requirements. The challenges are that – once again – it doesn’t fit either the business case, or the IT ‘rules’ as we know them. A project team can certainly buy and use with non IT project funding, and this is certainly happening, but this is normally hidden from the IT department. Most of all, it’s failing to provide the major advantage in a sustained manner for the enterprise by linking together and enabling these purchases to create a genuine Enterprise 2.0 business model working capability.
So I both advocate that we may have a new Killer Application defined in terms of a game-changing capability to working practice. It’s time to look at how IT adapts its role to enable this newcomer within its overall support for the business. Who pays for it? Now that’s the last part of the puzzle, for which my only answer is: the same budgets that now cover email, internet connectivity, cell phones and other tools of a modern business.

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