What can enterprise software giants such as Oracle (NYSE:ORCL) and IBM (NYSE:IBM) learn from consumer-product specialists such as Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL)? Plenty, according to TIBCO Software (NASDAQ:TIBX) COO Murray Rode.
I spoke to Rode at last week's TUCON conference, and the conversation turned to TIBCO's R&D focus. The company is known for its solid engineering core, producing high-speed data analysis tools that IBM and Oracle have been trying to copy for years without much success. But as it turns out, a high-performance product isn't enough these days. Rode explained that a newfound focus on user-friendly interfaces has unlocked whole new vistas for TIBCO.
"How do you decide whether to spend more R&D dollars on the user experience versus the core engine?" he mused. "The reality is, we have to do both. Today, you have to have a product that's both usable and, we think, high-performance."
In other words, a touch of Apple's usability focus can do wonders for the incredibly complex products that are sold as enterprise-grade business tools. "How do you make your products easier to install, easier to manage, easier to use? How do you create a more engaging customer experience for the developer or the user of our products?" These are the new questions on Murray Rode's mind.
If that doesn't sound like a touch of Apple inspiration, I don't know what is. That's exactly how Apple converts customers to raving fans -- make it simple, make it engaging, make it indispensable.
What the competition can learn from Murray Rode
IBM's WebSphere suite is a fantastically powerful set of tools, but it was never easy to understand. Oracle's product catalog is even more complicated, cobbled together from a long series of big-ticket acquisitions. TIBCO currently wins a lot of its head-to-head bids against both companies thanks to the combination of high power and relatively simple operation. There's still more work to do, of course, but TIBCO has a usability head start on the competition.
TIBCO still places a heavy emphasis on quality engineering, but Rode must strike a balance between that and user interfaces when working out budgets and manpower schedules.
"I think we're gonna have to continue to kind of strike a balance between the two," he said. Oracle and IBM would be also well advised to pay more attention to these questions.
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