Ed Cross, co-founder at Odesma, and Anya McKenna (of Market Dojo) ponder the neanderthalic and stone age ways of B2B software…
The peculiar thing about business technology is that generally it is not very easy to use. I might exclude here email, but the rest of it seems to need a training course and some sort of super user, or a training provider (or even worse a consulting firm) to come and show you how or work it for you. Whereas the most used technology that we interact with outside of work generally does not require any support.
The irony here is that business technology came first, and the use of technology first appeared in the office, long before we all had tech at home or on our person. Yet, it remains unintuitive, expensive, and, as a result, does not get utilised fully or at all by a lot of people at work.
Compare this to B2C technology, how hard is it to work? ebay for instance. Or Facebook. Or even Candy Crush. The simple answer is they are intuitive, straightforward and certainly do not need any training or consulting support to get the benefit of them. In fact even Generation X (us older types) can work them on any number of portable or fixed lumps of technology. And a lot of them are free to the user.
Where Did it all Go Wrong?
So what’s gone wrong? For this, we’ll let Ed share an anecdote from 1999. While working for PwC, I presented to a local CIPS event in Staffordshire on e-commerce. This topic was perceived as very much the new kid on the block, and a whole host of new tech start ups were receiving incredible valuations.
At this session I laid out the view of the future described by the firm, ignorant to the nay sayers. In fact there were quite a few in the audience, most notably those with a few more years under their belts than me. One or two challenged my hypothesis on the topic.
I later left PwC to set up a Private Equity backed branch of a US e-Sourcing firm Sharemax. A year or two later the dot.com bubble had burst and I was back in Consultancy, and the nay sayers were proven right.
So, what was, or still is, the problem? From an historic perspective the leading market insight companies and so forth, focused heavily on functionality, as did many buyers of solutions. And ignored the user experience, the maturity or demographic of the population expected to use the technology.
Many people in senior or middle management positions did not grow up with computing technology, and when making selection decisions, focused on elements outside of ease of use, and considered technology against an historic understanding – one where tech is always hard to use.
They therefore condoned supplier behaviour where training and consulting support were deemed acceptable costs of enablement. And this thinking has not much changed, given the demographics of leadership.
Of course, the existing providers have not been driven to step up, because the customer has not demanded it of them. Whilst in the B2C arena the demographic is younger. The expectation is of instant gratification, solutions that are compelling, easy to use and free or very low cost. With Generation Y coming through in business we expect the current issues are about to change.
So why have B2B software providers not followed the B2C route, and provided better, more compelling solutions to pull procurement out of the stone age? You’ll have to wait for the next part of our series to find out.