Before the PC debuted in the mid 1970s, all software was enterprise software. Computers were expensive. Only corporations could afford them, and those that owned a machine wanted to use it all the time to justify the cost.
Early enterprise software packages were designed for automation. They focused on simple, highly structured, repetitive calculation tasks. As computing hardware became more capable and sophisticated, enterprise software evolved too. It began helping to automate and streamline more complex — but still highly structured — jobs like sales, marketing, and supply chain management. Eventually, a second generation of enterprise software took to the cloud with the advent of the SaaS delivery model.
Enterprise software is at another crossroads
Today, virtually every successful company already has systems in place to help maximize the value of its structured data. Key processes are automated. Many of these processes are also now also quantified, and analytics based on these measurements are helping companies gain insight into their performance faster than ever before.
But most organizations still have a vast untapped resource at their disposal: unstructured data. The next generation of enterprise software will leverage rich data integrations to deliver sophisticated capabilities across traditional boundaries — and supercharge productivity and collaboration along the way.
Three trends are shaping the evolution of enterprise software
According to IBM, 40 zettabytes of data will be created by 2020. 90 percent of the world’s data was created in the last two years alone, and most companies in the U.S. have at least 100TB of data stored within their systems. But as much as 90% of this data is unstructured — trapped in difficult-to-analyze formats like email, log files, sensor outputs, social content, or call center records.
At the same time, boundaries are blurring between functions within the enterprise. Gone are the days when sales, marketing, business development, and customer service operated their own separate systems and processes. Today, as a result of both functional overlap and budgetary constraints, the data used by these groups overlaps — allowing them to collaborate throughout the customer lifecycle.
A third trend is at work at well. In 2015, millennials became the dominant age group in the workforce, and they’ve brought a strong preference for choice to all aspects of the enterprise. “Bring Your Own Device” policies, the increasing prevalence of remote working arrangements, and growth in mobile reflect this shift. Enterprise software is evolving to allow more choices in the way we work as well. In response to millennials’ demand for creativity in all aspects of the work process, modern enterprise software is designed to give workers options so they can use it when, where, and how they want.
Enterprise software is evolving to respond to these pressures
As the workplace becomes more fluid and complex, enterprise software must adapt to keep up. But for businesses with dozens of systems already operating throughout the organization, more software isn’t the answer. Instead, companies need simplification. They need a single source of truth about customers, employees, and key metrics. And that means they need integration.
Getting value from data — especially unstructured data — requires putting it in context. By matching unstructured data to structured data, companies can enrich their understanding of people and processes.
In his essay The Smart Enterprise Wave, venture capitalist Joe Lonsdale of 8VC describes what becomes possible when companies eliminate data silos. “By unlocking the patterns in and usability of the data, knowledge workers will solve problems the creators of the software did not even foresee,” Lonsdale writes. “For example, in the intelligence community, analysts can complete complex tasks — like tracking international money laundering schemes or rebuilding communities in war-torn areas — that require connections across networks informed by structured and unstructured data. The same goes for global bankers, multinational lawyers, retailers with distributed supply chains, medical researchers, and other professionals who face complex challenges.”
The insights generated by integrating data generated by different systems also helps workers be more productive. The Smart Enterprise will help make daily workflows more intuitive and data-driven by surfacing intelligent connections and providing contextual insights when appropriate — even within other software suites, like email and chat.
This is the third wave of workplace software. The Enterprise 3.0 era will be led by data and companies that create intelligent systems far beyond just automation. Data is the key to the future of enterprise software in the post-SaaS world.