Thoughts on Enterprise Software
For at least the last few years (one could argue: ever since the Y2K scare ended) the “traditional” enterprise application market has been distressed. Most of the big areas of “application white space” have been covered, the vendor/systems integrator/customer relationship has become strained, applications were bloated and too difficult to install. And, oh by the way, once they were installed, users didn’t like to use them because of, among other things, the rigid workflow they required – always different than the workflow that users had previously used.
Yet, despite this, the enterprise applications market is huge. With a new investment we just made, JotSpot (www.jotspot.com) we’re trying to address the need that enterprises (of all shapes and sizes) have for easy to write, lightweight and flexible enterprise applications that knowledge workers in enterprises will actually use to increase their productivity. JotSpot is building apps using a wiki on top of (one of several) databases. This has a number of advantages over traditional enterprise apps and over most of the existing open source wikis (some of which are quite good, but most of which require more “programming” skill than the broad base of enterprise users will ever acquire.
Other areas that are interesting in the enterprise space are security, where there are still too many “point” solutions and inadequate management tools. A couple of companies we’ve invested in Determina (www.determina.com) and Elemental (www.elementalsecurity.com) fit into this “white space”, with, respectively, a powerful host-based security offering and an easy to deploy and use security policy management set of applications.
Other interesting areas we’ve explored include the enterprise messaging marketplace with our investment in Scalix (www.scalix.com). Many enterprises (and other educational and governmental organizations) are seriously considering moving their “rich messaging” (email, shared calendars, contact management, tasks, etc.) infrastructure to Linux. Based on the proven OpenMail technology, but with man-years of improvement and thin-client development, Scalix offers an alternative to messaging infrastructures that require Windows or UNIX to run. Interesting TCO and flexibility benefits to the customer, as well as the benefits of Linux (no lock-in, etc.).
You’d think that, given the history of software development (and the importance of software to the world today); more would have been done to improve the software build process. But anyone in the software development world (certainly the non-java world) can still vouch for the slow, nightly heartbeat of the build. One of the companies we’ve invested in, Electric Cloud (www.electric-cloud.com) is addressing this by massively parallelizing the build process. This achieves significant speed ups in build times, but also offers improved build management tools in future releases.
So, there is still opportunity for entrepreneurs in the enterprise applications space, with the right approach. In particular, building enterprise apps on top of some of the newer web-centric concepts such as blogs, RSS feeds and social networking (social mapping) hold some interesting promise.
If you’ve got an interesting idea for a new company in this space, let me know.