Disposable Software – What happened to the idea?

In the early 1990’s end-user software development tools had become so sophisticated there was a rumor afoot that all software would soon become disposable. I am of course talking about tools like Access, Excel, Lotus Notes etc. that allowed a Power-User to create quick, built-for-purpose “disposable” applications. Use them and then throw them away. In the last year I have met with 6 major Canadian enterprises that each have more than 30,000 end-user developed business critical applications. They were intended to be cheap, useful point solutions that would “do” until a real system came around… and of course that replacement enterprise solution never did show up.


Come on .. no one’s running a video camera and going to report you to the Green Police, admit it. You love paper plates don’t you? No washing required after dinner, no electricity to burn, no toxic soaps to flush, no dishwasher to empty, no cupboard to fill. Use it and toss it in the recycling bin. It may not be “Green” but walking right back out into the sunshine after dinner instead of stuffing the dishwasher is a real treat. In the software world we’ve been using paper plate solutions for years and years but instead of using them and tossing them out, we’ve decided to keep them and keep reusing them, letting them get dirtier and dirtier with each use. It’s a pandemic-scale problem.

Now we have the next generation of “disposable” software. Cloud based services.

  • For $X per month you can have Web Meeting service. Don’t like it, switch to another service next month or just dispose of the service. (Live Meeting, WebEx, WebMeeting, LotusLive etc)
  • For $X per month you can have a CRM service. Don’t like it, switch to another service next month or just dispose of the service. (Dynamics On-Line, Salesforce.com, Salesboom, Optima etc.)
  • For $X per month you can have an integrated collaboration environment. Don’t like it, switch to another service next month or just dispose of the service. (Office 365, eRoom, Oracle Open Office etc)
  • For $X per month you can have a full Financial package service. Don’t like it, switch to another service next month or just dispose of the service. (Dynamics, Intact, Oracle, SAP etc.)
  • The list continues…

No, not really. What IT people know is that the cost of acquisition of a solution is a fraction of the actual costs and investment.

  • Set-up and data migration costs
  • Training Costs
  • Support Costs
  • Audit, Compliance, Security
  • Decommissioning costs etc.

to name just a few. These costs are always much more than the cost of acquisition and that means that these solutions are not easily disposed of. SaaS services are about to become the crack-cocaine of the IT world. Why? Any user can put the monthly charge on their Corporate Amex card and start using it. There are:

  • no requirements definition – try it, like it, use it a bit, use it a lot ….
  • no significant capital investment
  • no or minimal contractual obligations
  • no requirement for accurate data – likely keyed in by the end-user with no requirement to match or correlate with corporate systems
  • no need to follow corporate policy – because no one even knows!

Side Note – Last year a group of salespeople were hired into my client’s company. They all had previous experience with Salesforce.com, liked it and liked the iPhone application even more. They imported the customer lists from the Corporate Outlook contacts database and worked for the next year adding to their own group Salesforce.com CRM database. The VP Sales was impressed with the new hires, always able to talk about the pipeline at a moment’s notice. It was a good team, highly successful and they blew away their sales quotas. So successful in fact… that they started their own company. Conveniently, they were the only people with access to their Salesforce.com CRM database and had an excellent asset for their new company. Conversely the new salespeople hired to replace them found that there was little or no information available about many of the company’s current customers, many who were already former customers by the time the found the information.

So like the thousands of Notes applications scattered around the corporation, be prepared for another failure of the disposable application, the cloud application. What makes this one different from a Notes application is you may not even know where to start looking to find it.

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