When I was hired by BusinessWeek Online in 2004, I had to leave my life as a venture capital and finance reporter behind to become a technology reporter. "Fine," I said, "As long as I don't have to cover enterprise software." Flash-forward about 18 months and that's pretty much all I cover.
To my great relief, it has been far more interesting than I would have thought. But my reluctance was well founded.
Having worked mostly in small newsrooms, I've never directly seen how a good piece of accounting software can change my life. What's more: It seems that the more companies spent on, say, customer relationship management software the worse my own customer service experiences got.
Companies talk about all these cool things their software enables, but I rarely see any of it in my everyday consumer life. Case in point: the Saturday after Thanksgiving, I went to Circuit City to buy the second season of Arrested Development on DVD. They could tell from their computer system there was one left in stock, but had no clue where it was. It took two industrious sales clerks a good 40 minutes of clawing through disorganized bins in the backroom to track it down. And I'm fully aware that 99% of sales clerks working that weekend wouldn't have taken the time to close a $14 sale. "Where is RFID when you need it?" I groaned to my husband, who has become fully accustomed to dorky software comments peppering our everyday lives.
Finally, last Friday, enterprise software saved the day. I was feeling unusually industrious and got up at about 6 a.m. to go to the gym. I returned home to get ready for work, spring in my step, when I accidentally burned a very delicate silk shirt I was trying to iron. The iron had been set too high and the shirt literally disintegrated under it. I gasped.
Now, as one of my co-workers said when I relayed this story, I've got a lot of clothes. Seriously. "That one shirt has got to be statistically insignificant!" he shrieked. True. But I loved this shirt and emboldened by my morning of cardio and weightlifting I wasn't going to let it go.
I logged onto Ann Taylor Loft's Web site, but the shirt was past season and nowhere to be found. I tried calling the Union Square store that had sold it to me. No more in stock, they said. I tried a few more stores. No luck. Finally, I just called Ann Taylor's 800 number. There was no way every single size four, brown silk camisole was out of stock in the entire Ann Taylor network, I reasoned. Sure enough, a friendly voice answered the phone and within minutes tracked one down on an obscure sale rack of some Ann Taylor Loft somewhere in America, I gave her my credit card number, and it's making its way to me as I write this.
For the sake of all of us entering the Holiday shopping season, I can only hope that this experience is the beginning of a wave of all of this software actually starting to work. More practically, it made me wonder who Ann Taylor's software vendor is--not to mention who's in charge of IT at Circuit City. Enterprise software has gotten so mature, that many pundits say it's simply a cost of doing business, not a competitive differentiator. But software alone helped Ann Taylor match an off-season shirt that some poor store couldn't move even at a steep discount with someone who was frantic to have it, and truth be told, would have paid a lot more for it. Not to mention making me indescribably happy-- how many times can you say that after calling an 800 number?