Huge tidal wave approaching
Illustration: Malte Mueller/fStop/Getty Images; Protocol

The cure for what ails corporate culture

Source Code

Good morning! Employees are drowning in a sea of apps. But bailing them out is a trickier challenge than it might seem.

Fighting software bloat

1,200. That’s how many times, on average, an office worker switches between applications in one work day. Equally startling, the number of apps that the average business runs has grown to 187, a big jump from 77 in 2015. And some have many, many more. But despite the growth in IT over the past seven years, worker productivity has slowed to a sluggish pace, per federal data, prompting the question: What’s the benefit of all this tech?

It’s no surprise companies are clogged with many potentially unnecessary applications. For decades, IT vendors have convinced businesses that whatever inefficiencies they might have could be solved by adopting yet another new program.

  • The rise of software-as-a-service only exacerbated that problem, as it made it much easier for companies to deploy new products, increasingly without going through IT gatekeepers.
  • Add in the fact that most large corporations have acquired a passel of smaller companies, all with their own unique IT stacks, as well as the pivot to remote work, which seems to require a whole new set of apps, and it’s easy to see how quickly the portfolio is getting out of hand.

Industry experts remark, behind the scenes, that most tech portfolios within enterprises are duct-taped together. Not every piece of software is snake oil. But many are unable to achieve success in isolation. Instead, real value comes when various apps work together. That’s why companies like Oracle have long touted the potential cost savings that arise as a result of consolidating on their suites.

  • That’s more promise than reality, even for products purchased through the same vendor. That forces companies to solicit expensive help from consultants and yet more software vendors to help stitch those disparate systems together.

Those efforts clearly haven’t succeeded. Users are still forced to toggle through tons of different systems to do their jobs. Basic tasks still require ample human intervention. And businesses still can’t get immediate answers to basic questions like “How many employees do I have?”

  • CEOs and tech leaders have few options. Once software is deployed throughout the enterprise, it’s tough to junk an app due to, among other factors, employee pushback. Even though those monthly bills add up, the ROI rarely justifies the cost. It’s easier to let things ride.
  • And that’s why firms like Oracle and IBM continue to rake in the dough from aging software. That is slowly changing as new options emerge. But even as those companies pivot to modern tech, many of those legacy systems still run in the background.
  • Part of the problem is also the dynamics of working in a corporation. If a department is given a budget for tech, it’s going to spend it.

There is a shift happening in the world of business software that promises a fix. Instead of building software targeted at a specific function, providers are increasingly trying to build tools to manage entire processes. Instead of just procurement, for example, picture software that handles everything from procurement to logistics to payment.

  • It’s why marketing materials from the likes of Salesforce, ServiceNow, and Microsoft are now hyperfocused on the concept of “workflows,” which means integrating widely used systems under one user interface to try to prevent the dreaded tab switching. It’s basically a Band-Aid for the underlying issue of app bloat that came from those same vendors overselling customers on things they probably didn’t need.
  • There’s also ample investment in programs that can analyze information stored in multiple core systems across a business, a trend that promises to let companies finally use the decades of data they’ve gathered for competitive advantage.
  • And new vendors are building their core systems so that external sources can be plugged in more easily. The combination of Asana and Slack, for example, can make it easier for managers to track employee work without that maddening app switch.

Software is an industry that was built on over-promising and under-delivering. But despite some horror stories, it’s clear that businesses that invest in the right tech early can very quickly outpace rivals.

  • As IT permeates deeper throughout the enterprise, it’s imperative that leaders become smarter purchasers, a difficult task as vendors constantly push new payment models and “categories” of must-have tech.
  • A smart company is no longer one that simply burns a bunch of money getting tons of shiny new applications. Increasingly, as the programs get more advanced, it takes a very strategic approach to be successful — and with it, dedicated talent to support integrations. Alongside developers, for example, IT might consider hiring user experience experts to streamline work.
Tech leaders love to say we’re still in the early innings of a long digital modernization journey. If that’s the case, buckle up, because the road ahead is bumpy. And given the software industry’s track record, sometimes customers might have to pave pieces of it themselves.

A MESSAGE FROM CAPITAL ONE SOFTWARE

Many business leaders aren’t sure where to begin when it comes to migrating to the cloud. To help organizations adapt to this revolution, Capital One launched Capital One Software, a new enterprise B2B software business focused on providing cloud and data management solutions.

Learn more

The best of Protocol

  • Jensen Huang and his wife, Lori Huang, are donating $50 million to Oregon State University for a new innovation complex that will include a Nvidia supercomputer. The investment, Huang said, is to help people simulate the future, using AI to “predict the impact of climate science and the magnitude of impact in different regions around the world.”

Confessions of a metaverse unicorn — Janko Roettgers

  • Horizon Worlds is relatively barren, with only around 200,000 users in total. Protocol’s own Janko Roettgers is one of those 200,000, falling in love with the game Arena Clash, described by the company as “a team-based laser tag game” earlier this year. Even with its glitches and moderation challenges, Arena Clash is proof that Horizon Worlds can actually be fun.

AWS has a clear advantage among cloud enterprise marketplaces: It has the most customers — Donna Goodison

  • Since its launch in 2012, AWS Marketplace has made a name for itself as the most mature cloud-apps marketplace among the Big Three providers — and many software vendors see it as a crucial part of their go-to-market strategy. Its secret is its “private offers,” which allow SaaS companies to negotiate custom licensing agreements, pricing, and payment schedules with customers without leaving Amazon’s marketplace.

Connecting crypto wallets is scary. Plaid wants to change that. — Tomio Geron

  • Plaid’s latest product, which helps developers connect consumers’ crypto wallets to their apps, aims to make crypto more secure. But it also feeds into an ongoing debate over just how decentralized crypto can be while addressing consumers’ needs for secure, easy-to-use apps.

Maryland’s digital ad tax shows how hard ‘easy’ policy can be — Ben Brody

  • A Maryland court struck down the state’s first-in-the-nation tax on Big Tech’s digital ads. The ruling may force several states eyeing similar laws to go back to the drawing board, and shows how tricky regulating Big Tech can be, even with something as seemingly simple as a tax.

Salesforce SVP: The definition of ‘team’ is changing — Allison Levitsky

  • The next stage of work isn’t just rethinking what it means to be in an office, but rethinking what it means to be on a team, Kat Holmes, SVP of UX and product design at Salesforce, told Protocol. For some companies, being on a team doesn’t mean working on the same product, but rather being in the same space and finding “connection that can be built through that local community.”

Carbon removal has a funding gap. This climate nonprofit is attempting to fill it. — Michelle Ma

  • Major tech companies like Microsoft, Alphabet, and Salesforce are all-in on carbon dioxide removal. Terraset, a nonprofit that came out of stealth mode this week, is jumping in to help channel private philanthropy into the nascent field to bridge its funding gap.

Why security teams are losing trust in the term ‘zero trust’ — Kyle Alspach

  • The cybersecurity term “zero trust” is cryptic, overused, and often misconstrued. When used correctly, experts agree it’s the best way to stop cyberattacks in their tracks. But vendors giving the “zero trust” title to every cybersecurity product they offer is muddying the waters for security teams.

A MESSAGE FROM CAPITAL ONE SOFTWARE

The flexibility of the cloud helps companies like Capital One unlock access to their data with performance that can scale instantly. But this flexibility and scale can also create a unique challenge for organizations and users who are not proficient in cloud optimization.

Learn more

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

Recent Issues

A tale of two FTXs

Elon Musk, the un-CEO