Success can be a trickster; be wary. While I was moderating a customer advisory board workshop for the software division of a giant technology company, a disturbing observation dawned on everyone in our poorly air-conditioned conference room: The software we were all there to improve could do much more than even its most loyal users dreamed of, yet that extra capability was almost never tapped.The division\u2019s leadership heard story after story of how their software did a terrific job of solving one problem, yet was never considered as a possible solution for any other business problem. Somehow, the software\u2019s early success had branded it a useful "point solution" rather than an innovative platform for an array of apps. For example, while the software was superb for both mass and custom distribution of e-mails and PDFs, it could also handle global distribution of richer media formats\u2014streaming, for instance. But clients were not even aware of the greater capability. In fact, this server software, with minor modifications, was explicitly designed to deal with the bulk of the business and technical issues its users had deemed critical. Why did early success blunt enhanced adoption? Communication was part of the problem. People just didn\u2019t see the links between digital formats, and the vendor didn\u2019t know enough about its customers\u2019 specific business needs to point out how the software could address them. While it was true the software would have to be tweaked to custom-support specific needs, the vendor actually had tools that made customization cheap and easy. But again, the customers didn\u2019t understand what was available.Bottom line? The software was a victim of its early success. The customers clearly liked it\u2014why else join the advisory board?\u2014but the package was woefully undervalued and underutilized. The point solution perception actually undermined its potential as an enterprise business process platform. Oh, the irony! The software had been unfairly "niched."At a major software company\u2019s CIO conference barely a month later, it was d\u00bf vu all over again. Fortune 1000 IT leaders took turns telling their host\u2019s senior management that the vendor\u2019s enterprise software was underutilized. Business process owners and line executives inside their companies kept looking for alternate software solutions to business needs when the vendor\u2019s existing software could accomplish most everything required\u2014and more. "You need to make it easier for us to utilize all the software we license from you," one CIO told the vendor hosting the conference. "Otherwise, our people are just going to go out and buy the software they think they need from someone else." Indeed, the common theme of these vignettes turns out to be a problem throughout enterprise computing. Organizations in general\u2014and IT in particular\u2014are underachievers in extracting full value from the systems they acquire and deploy. They\u2019re too satisfied with initial success. For confirmation, you have to look only as far as your own desktop. The overwhelming majority of people use a fraction of the power and potential of, say, Microsoft Office or Google. Survey after survey reveals that managers typically use less than 15 percent of the functionality of PowerPoint or Excel. A recent IT survey by a Fortune 50 company showed that not even 10 percent of the employees over the age of 35 used the corporate e-mail filtering function. How Vendors Discourage ExperimentationNow ask yourself, What portion of our "application backlogs" are a function not of unwritten code but of unused or undeployed software features and functionality that are simply unknown or untaught to users? My bet? At least half, probably more.Why do I so confidently assert this? Because I\u2019ve seen it with my own eyes. Fifteen years ago, everyone in the industry joked about the unfulfilled promises of overhyped "vaporware." Today, there is not a major enterprise software package\u2014or a desktop app (Web-based or not)\u2014that doesn\u2019t have far more features and functionality than 75 percent of its users need. Are there vendors who fail to deliver? Of course, and there always will be. But the reality is, for most organizations, a greater variety of "off-the-shelf" choices with more built-in functionality exists than ever before. Yes, there will always be circumstances that require workarounds and custom-coding and special subroutines and so on. However, too many IT groups (and their internal customers) haven\u2019t thought through how they can tap existing software portfolios to better meet business needs.Now I\u2019m the first to acknowledge that many vendors\u2014you know who they are, they know who they are\u2014have stupid, counterproductive licensing policies that discourage willing customers from getting greater value. Shame on them! But when you look at the rate of open-source evolution and how once-simple servers that handle transactions are becoming more multidimensional, savvy CIOs have to ask: How well do we really know what our software and systems are capable of doing if we\u2019re really prepared to be clever about them? Are we adequately building on success?CIOs need to audit the early wins and encourage people to use them as springboards. The implementation challenge shifts when we think less about reaching for something "new" to solve problems than rethinking how we should tap what we possess. Yes, many vendors do a lousy job of documenting or explaining their offerings. And sometimes it\u2019s easier to look for another point solution to solve a new problem.But if we\u2019ve already learned to run a package that cost-effectively delivers the goods, why not build on it if the price is right? Building on the right experiences is better economics than acquiring novelties that will inevitably pose their own unique challenges anyway. Sitting in that airless room with a genuinely committed vendor and genuinely committed customers reinforced a simple but hard-won truth: Build on what works, and treat early success as an invitation to innovate\u2014not as a sign that the problem has been solved. Vendors need to push their sales and support people to explain how usage can evolve over time, not just how best to solve the problem du jour. And CIOs need to do a better job of reaching out to their business units and working with them to help identify the features and functionality they need, and then unlock those features from the software they already own or lease. The true test of our stewardship is not just how well software is used but whether we\u2019re getting the full value that we should. That\u2019s not just a technology leadership test; it\u2019s a business leadership challenge.