Sometimes I’m at a party and someone asks where I work. If the party is in Seattle and I say “Microsoft”, the follow up is usually “Which group?” because the person either works there, contracts there, or has a friend in the XBOX of Office team that they think I probably know. Anyway, I’ll tell them “Microsoft Dynamics ERP”, which is generally a conversation killer. If they work in a small business, they probably run on Excel or QuickBooks. If they happen work in a big company and know what ERP means, they have most likely had a bad impression of it or think it is pretty boring. So, what am I doing in the ERP group anyway?
As an aside, I have no idea what ERP really means. Gartner came up with the name “Enterprise Resource Planning” in the 90s and I suppose there is some resource planning in there but people know them as accounting systems. When I joined the group, I told the hiring manager that I wasn’t an accountant and didn’t have any plans to become one. Imagine my surprise when I was put in charge of the project accounting module. But I digress…
The first reason I love working in this space is because business applications are the last area to succumb to the new consumer-driven technical landscape. Most people using business applications are not computer nerds with a love of technology. They are doctors, lawyers, contractors, and advertisers and are not impressed by sort algorithms or caching techniques – they just want to get their work done so they can 1) make more money 2) head home earlier or 3) both. And even though they aren’t technology lovers, they have grown up in the era of tablets, smartphones, and Facebook so they have a high expectations for the apps and devices they use.
Designing an application for someone that doesn’t care about applications is a real challenge. I remember one of my first jobs when I was working on a new application to help physicians working in a hospital. In order to better understand their workflow, I got to go on rounds with one of the doctors (rounds are where they visit all of their patients in the hospital). At the end of the session, I realized that they had the world’s best user interface – they just tell the nurses what to do. How can you improve on that? The best business applications just kind of fade into the background and become second nature to people.
The second reason I love working in this space is because businesses are crazy! Everybody runs their businesses in a different way and it is tough to write a single product that works for everyone. And because I work at Microsoft, I can’t just focus on one type of company. We work on software for every industry, every size of company, every where in the world. You think a large chicken processing plant in the Ukraine looks anything like a small specialty retailer in New York? You can’t even assume that that two small public relations firms in California work the same way. I am constantly surprised discovering new types of businesses practices.
Hopefully in the next couple of years, people will begin to think a little different about business software. And even if it doesn’t happen, I still get a discount on XBOX at the company store.