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There’s a huge productivity gap between modern software and the aging manner in which most enterprises still distribute and manage applications on personal computers.
At a time when business models and whole industries are being upended by improved use of software, IT providers inside of enterprises are still painstakingly provisioning and maintaining PC applications in much the same way they did in the 1990s.
Furthermore, with using these older models, most enterprises don’t even know what PC apps they have in use on their networks and across thousands of computers. That means they’re also lacking that visibility into how, or even if, these apps are being used, and they may even be paying for licenses that they don’t need to.
To examine the ongoing problems around archaic PC apps management and how new models — taking a page from the popular app store model — can rapidly boost the management of PC applications, BriefingsDirect recently interviewed the President and CEO of Embarcadero Technologies, Wayne Williams. Wayne has more than 15 years of experience in founding and leading companies. He was appointed CEO of Embarcadero Technologies in 2007 and he is a former COO, Senior Vice President of Products and CTO at Embarcadero.
Here are some excerpts:
Gardner: It’s kind of ironic that, on one hand, we have software taking over in a larger sense how businesses are run and how industries are being innovative. This has been highlighted recently by Marc Andreessen in some of his writings. At the same time, the corporate PC, also driven by software, is still sort of stodgy and moribund, at least in the perception of how it’s being used productively.
How is it that software is advancing generally, but PC software remains, in a sense, unchanged?
Williams: I’ve been asking myself that question for many years. I’ve spent most of my life in software, and I’m embarrassed to say that the industry has really done a poor job at making software available to the users, which is the fundamental issue.
Microsoft Windows is clearly the dominant PC platform, but it has fundamental design flaws, which sowed the seeds for the availability problem.
Part of the story
But that’s only a small part of the story. Software vendors are so focused on building the next great application and on features and functions in that application that they’ve lost sight of what really matters, which is making sure that the application that you build gets used, gets in the hands of the users, and that they get their work done.
When I look at the PC industry and where it has come, the applications themselves have improved dramatically. I can’t imagine being as productive as I am without Microsoft Outlook, for example, for email and calendaring. And Adobe Photoshop. I don’t think you can find a photo anywhere that has not been edited with Photoshop. It’s incredibly powerful.
But unfortunately, a lot of the gains that really could be made have been wasted, because it’s very, very tough to get an application from a vendor into a user’s hands.
Gardner: What do you think the real root problem is here?
Williams: The root problem is that software should move at the speed of light, yet it moves at the speed of a glacier.
Let me give you an example. In a mid- to large-sized company, if an employee is looking for a special pen for a new project, they can go to a catalog, take out a pen, and they can usually have it the next day, and that’s a physical good.
Software is virtual. So it could and should move at the speed of light, but for many of our large customers it takes quarters to get software into the user’s hand.
Waiting for productivity
There’s a whole host of problems that emanate from the root problem. You have an environment which is high-friction. It reminds me really of a state of manufacturing before the Industrial Revolution, where you had processes that were slow, expensive, unpredictable, and error-prone. That’s how PC software has operated over the last 20-plus years.
When you have an environment that is so high-friction, users will go around it. So you have this process with the PC, where IT tries to get more control and locks down the environment more, and the business users that need to get the work done find ways to get it done.
… You can take a fairly simple device like a smartphone from Apple or an Android device and find and run applications literally in seconds. Yet you have this sophisticated PC environment with hundreds of billions of dollars worth of software sold every year, powerful hardware and processing power, but it’s like pulling teeth for a user to get the applications she or he needs.
Gardner: Wayne, you and I have been around long enough to know that the way to instigate change in an enterprise environment is not necessarily to attempt wholesale radical shifts. You need to work with what’s in place and recognize that investments have been made and that those investments are going to continue to be leveraged.
Williams: As far as what’s good and what can be retained, there’s a great footprint of hardware out there, PC hardware. A massive investment has been made.
It’s the same with software. There are tons of software, both licensed and built internally. And the internal part is really important. What I see from our big customers is that for every commercial app that they license they will have 10 that are built internally. And while there is very little visibility into how commercial licenses are used, there is some, but it’s little. And there’s zero visibility into who’s using internally built software, for the most part.
There have been massive investments made in software, and unfortunately, a lot of the productivity that could have been realized hasn’t been. But the good news is that it can be.
When I look at the opportunities, it’s really two constituents, which you described. You talked about the user for a second and then you talked about the investment and what can be reused, and that’s really management, typically IT management, which is centralized. Embarcadero’s AppWave is about bringing these two stakeholders together.
If you look at mobile software, the friction between the user and the app is removed, and the results are fantastic. For us, that was a great proof point, because we started on AppWave before anybody had heard of the Apple App Store.
For PCs, the problem is much more difficult and it’s much larger. Mobile software is about a $10 billion industry, and PC is somewhere around $300 billion. So the opportunity for productivity gains and overall results is much, much bigger, and the problem is much more difficult. Now, with AppWave the mobile experience — find, run, rate, review — comes to the PC. So the agile enterprise has tools to support it.
Gardner: How do we bring these together? How do we bring the app store experience to IT? How do we enable them to bring that to their own constituents, their own users?
Williams: The key is the system. With the enterprise app store we bring two constituents together: users and management.
You mentioned a few things that are core principles. For users, there are really three principles that drive everything that we do. One of them is self-service, the next is socialization, and the third is instant gratification.
As a user, when I have a problem to solve and I’m looking for an app to help me solve it, I want to be able to find it myself, quickly. I want to understand what my peers are saying about that app. When I decide I want to try it, I click a button and run it. Everything we do goes through one of those filters. It’s about the user experience.
From a management perspective, for IT they need centralized control and visibility into real usage. So those are two principles that really drive everything we do with AppWave from a management perspective.
People talk about the consumerization of IT now, and initiatives like “bring your own device.” The key for IT is to put an environment in place that draws users in and gives them what they’re looking for, but you can still maintain overall control and have real visibility into who is using software and when.
Gardner: Describe for us what AppWave is, what it does, and how it came to be?
Williams: AppWave is an enterprise app store for PCs that provides self-service. Users can very easily type in a search term and get a result. The result is a set of applications. Then they can click and run those applications, read ratings and reviews from their peers, and they can be assured that when they do run those applications, they’re not going to disrupt anything else that they have on their PC.
… If you look at Windows, it’s designed around the concept of sharing and sort of a utopian view, where applications could all share parts, and typically those are called DLLs in Windows. Unfortunately, the end result of that is conflict.
When a user wants to try a new application, that application is installed and will typically conflict with other applications that were previously installed. The problem gets worse when you get into new versions.
In the PC market, most vendors update their software multiple times a year. For example, we put out new release of every major product once a year and then we will have point releases typically quarterly. You have an awful lot of change, and every time there is a change, you stand to break other things that are already installed on your computer.
That was one of the things we had to tackle, and we did with AppWave. That folds into instant gratification. If I’m a user who has an existing version of a particular application, and I need either the older version or the newer version, I should be able to click a button and be productive. I should be using it in seconds.
Gardner: How did you solve these issues inherent with PC software availability?
Williams: Years and years of engineering, but at the heart of it, we removed the dependencies that applications would have with other applications and with the environment in general. Each of these applications is able to stand on its own, which means you can have multiple versions of a particular app and move between them painlessly with no concerns.
I think that’s important for just about any knowledge worker. I’ve seen company after company — and ours is no different — afraid to move, for example, to the newest version of Office, because they’re not sure if documents from the old version are going to work properly. Problems like that are gone, because you can easily move from version to version with the click of a button.
This is particularly important in R&D,where a tremendous amount of time is spent retooling to go from one configuration of applications for a particular system.
Prior to having AppWave, developers had multiple PCs, one for working on the new release that’s going to come out this year and then one for going back and fixing bugs on last year’s release.
What are the metrics?
Gardner: What do you get if you do this properly? How impactful is the shift when you go from say a traditional distribution to an AppWave and an app store distribution model?
Williams: I can give you a few examples. It’s been amazing for us certainly. We drink our own champagne. We’ve made incredible gains, with the biggest gains being in two areas.
One is in R&D, where teams generally produce a daily build of most of the products. Those apps, when they come off the build machine, are now immediately available to all of R&D. It’s particularly important for QA, because the downtime that you would have retooling and getting a new app is gone. It’s literally seconds. So we’ve seen some great gains internally with R&D.
We’ve also seen it with sales. We’ve got roughly 20 products. We put out a minor release once a quarter and majors once a year. So if you just looked at the explosion of that set of apps that a salesperson would have to have on their PC, just in two years, it’s 160. That historically has been a problem. It’s just a productivity drain and it’s error prone. Now that problem is gone.
A large financial services company had a nine-month rollout cycle for of a new version of a PC app. They had a really pressing business need to get this done before the holidays, their biggest season. It was impossible using their current methods for PC software distribution. With AppWave, users were upgraded to the right version of software in minutes.
The thing that they loved about that whole experience wasn’t really the metrics. Certainly they put together their ROIs and they were impressive, but what that really did for them was that it allowed them to move quickly, to solve the business need in a time that would really make a difference.
Gardner: We’re seeing tremendous uptake in mobile devices and tablets. We’re seeing people who want to be able to combine their roles as consumers and individuals at home with what they do at work.
Is there something about AppWave and what we’ve been talking about that can be brought into the mobile and even cloud spheres?
Williams: Absolutely. Our view is that, at the end of the day, it’s all about getting the right app in the hands of the users as quickly as possible and that should happen on all relevant platforms. So certainly mobile tablets, Android tablets, and iOS, iPads, are very cool and powerful devices that we are certainly going to support.
The important thing to remember is about getting the app to the user, regardless of what device they’re using. So whether it’s a tablet, a PC, or it’s their own PC, as opposed to the company PC, they should still have access to all the apps that matter, with all the same kind of principles we’ve talked about, instant gratification, very easy to find. Those are all things that we’re covering in AppWave.
Our initial focus was all about solving the PC problem, because in my view that’s the big problem. That’s where so much productivity has been locked away. We’ve solved that for the PC now and we certainly will support other popular platforms as they emerge.
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