Throwing Enterprise Software Vendors Under the Bus

ERP customers love to bash their on-premise vendor's software. So why do they keep buying it?

Throw Under the Bus: 1. One is thrown under the bus when he is made the scapegoat or blamed for something that wasn't his responsibility in the first place. 2. A cover-up for your mistake.

-Urban Dictionary

It's pretty darn easy and convenient to throw traditional enterprise software vendors—Microsoft, IBM, SAP, Oracle (a.k.a. MISO) and the like—under the bus these days.

On-premise enterprise software sucks. Users hate it. There's way too much shelfware. It's insanely expensive. ERP UIs are terrible. It's not open. Big implementations fail too often. Vendors force customers to do costly upgrades. Where's the innovation?

Oh, I hear it all the time, read about it in surveys and do my part to add to the cacophony of discontent. To the general public, it might appear that even tobacco companies enjoy a better level of overall "likeability" than do enterprise software vendors.

A recent opinion piece on Forbes.com, by Box.net CEO Aaron Levie, does a compelling job of demonstrating why "old software is broken," pointing out a "user rebellion" in progress, and imploring vendors to create "software people want to use."

Enterprise software vendors and their legacy software are bad. Cloud vendors and the future they offer are good. We get it.

But here's the thing that continues to dog these types of articles: Companies, executives and IT leaders keep buying on-premise enterprise software. Lots of it. The numbers don't lie: MISO, as a collective, is faring quite well these days. Their customers are buying what they're selling.

And yet customer survey data continues to show widespread dissatisfaction with their software vendors.

Oracle customers, for instance, are unhappy yet refuse to leave. And SAP customers are still simmering over maintenance and support fees, yet a mass revolt is unlikely.

So why do disenchanted customers keep buying more? (That famous description of "insanity" seems to fit here: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.)

At best, these companies feel comfortably stuck with the devil they know well: They've spent far too much money already on their software portfolios, and the alternative (chucking it all) is not feasible or cost-effective right now.

At worst, these companies' software-purchasing behavior demonstrates a fundamental economic disconnect and irrational behavior, in that many of these new software purchases are not in their companies' long-term best interests.

It appears they just can't say no to the status quo, at least not right now.

Enterprise software customers have every right to throw their vendors under the bus if they want to. They've earned that right since they continue to pay all that money.

But stop trying to play the helpless victim—you're the one driving the bus.

Thomas Wailgum covers Enterprise Software, Data Management and Personal Productivity Apps for CIO.com. Follow him on Twitter @twailgum. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline. E-mail Thomas at twailgum@cio.com.

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