When I first came to Australia in 1988, I was working with Oracle, launching a ‘new breed’ of accounting applications (The term ERP was still a few years in the future) with flexible account structures, field level validation, and mini computers (read Digital, Pyramid, Sequent – remember those?) as back ends. Prospects thought my demos on the VT320 terminal (connected via a modem on a fixed line to the server in the office) were very flashy. Our slide show presentations at seminars were actual slides in a projector. We competed against software vendors like Cullinet, Cincom, MSA, McCormack & Dodge, QSP, Walker Interactive. Oracle Financials was a game changer at the time. Even relational databases (RDBMS) like Oracle’s and Sybase, DB/2 and Informix were only just hitting the mainstream.
* I stole that picture from http://retro.hackaday.com/
Just a few years later and my first company, Pacific Technology, got involved with PeopleSoft, who were just setting up in Australia. PeopleSoft was an even newer breed of ERP with a ‘user friendly,’ seductive user interface. SAP R/2 was just getting momentum. No one wanted green screens anymore. It had to be on a desktop PC (or a ‘laptop’ – and you better have a strong lap because they weighed a ton!). Client/server was all the rage. Tom Siebel started his eponymous company focussing on new area of the enterprise, sales, with a customer relationship management solution, CRM – a new buzzword for the 90′s.
Somewhere in there, the internet came of age. Clever kids like Marc Benioff and Evan Goldberg started Salesforce.com and NetSuite (NetLedger). When I first ran a project to implement Salesforce.com (back in 2002), it was fairly primitive – there was no ‘sandbox’ environment. The force.com platform did not exist. But not having to worry about servers, environments, patches, and so on made it possible to do it all soooo much quicker than similar applications before. And it was so much more intuitive for users. SaaS has matured to the point where most organisations would look for a service before considering on premise software for a whole range of business applications – Workday, ServiceNow, Zendesk, Concur, and a number of that have already been acquired by the gorillas (SuccessFactors, Taleo, Eloqua).
I’ve been so involved in the Salesforce.com world for the past several years, I’ve only just noticed that we are on the verge of another generational change in business applications, designed for mobile & tablet first and then applying that responsive design in the browser versions. I see it happening in companies like Square, and locals like Vend and my recent investment in Skedulo. Sure, most of them are starting in the SME market, but it took even Salesforce.com years to really penetrate the enterprise. Easy to procure, limited commitment, many integration options and incredibly usable.
I’m excited about this next generation and want to use my experience to help one or more of them be successful. Do you know a new disrupter for business applications? Who else should I be watching (or helping?)