Simplicity, elegance and the Java bean.

Ed, of the Wii BI and SDN  fame, posted recently on enterprise application simplicity (not)

I used to think I was half way competent until I recently tried to order a pen and some laser printer toner using the newly implemented procurement application at my workplace. Boy, was I wrong; it turns out that I must be flat-out, stupid.

Oh dear.

Sure, maybe I am naive due to my lack of knowledge of the big, bad, mean ol’ enterprise process, but somehow I doubt that Amazon would agree that their business process is so simple. Amazon hides it’s complexity from it’s users. They make it as simple as possible on the surface, because from a customer’s perspective, all you really want to do is buy a book. Do you really care about how Amazon’s supply chain works, what standards they use to reduce their TCO, or the backend complexities of their rating and review system? If you had to worry about that stuff, then you would head on over to the local, physical bookstore like in ancient times.

This week I  finally splashed out on a new coffee machine at home. Most of my German mates have a coffee machine that would not be out of place in Armani’s  latest concept shop.  I  was  afflicted with  serious gadget envy. 

On Saturdays, as well as polishing cars and lawnmowers, they dismantle and polish their Titanium Jura, Saeco, Krupp or Gaggia machines.  The coffee is  normally fabulous, assuming that the maker is practised but it is a good idea to phone ahead if you would like a cup. I tend to ask for tea instead.

I had a different approach.  I’d seen a Nespresso machine at Sig’s house last year.  I was impressed by the small footprint and the ease of use, but I was a little concerned about the capsule system.  I spent the coffee machine budget on bicycle components instead.

Then last weekend, I popped around to another friend’s spot in Heidelberg, and he has two coffee machines. A huge shining chrome machine with separate  multi-consistency grinder and milk steamer, and more switches than an Airbus cockpit. He also has a Nespresso cube, which they use “all the time”.

I went home, googled a bit to check prices and features and ordered a Nespresso Delonghi cube  on It arrived the next day, and within 5 minutes of opening the box, it was making delicious coffee.  It came with a couple of cups and some samples, and the next day a big box of coffee capsules arrived from Nespresso,  12 different types of coffee, to suit all tastes, and fancy wooden display box…

There are a lot of parallels here for us enterprisey software types to look at.

1. The capsule, although proprietary, provides flexibility (who has 12 different types of coffee on hand?) 

2. The capsule provides price transparency- 32c per cup.

3. There is little maintenance as the capsule deals with the waste. (I would like a recycle option though)

4. The UI is very simple, only two buttons. The complexity (strength and bitterness of coffee) is built in to the capsule selection. The capsule hides the complexity from the user. The colour coded capsules make choice simple.

5. The machine has a very small footprint and elegant design.  It looks a lot more expensive than it was.

6. Nespresso  now has a recurring revenue stream from me, as the cost of switching coffee brands is now higher, as I need to buy a new machine to change, but not only that, coffee moves from a supermarket purchase (very competitive and whimsical ) to a subscription.

7. Nespresso’s  concept, marketing and online experience is brilliant.  Well done Nestle. The use of the web as the main distribution channel for coffee? Who would have thought it would work?  I bet they had big arguments about channel cannibalization and so on.   The history of the development is here.  But proof is in this number, it rocks:  25 % annual growth since its market introduction in 1988.

8. Clever partnerships with machine makers.  Nestle worked with machine designers to create machine concepts. Very close collaboration, leveraging partner expertise and brand to create design classics. Nestle was smart enough to know that it needed machine partners to make this hip enough for shallow, image-conscious  folks like me to buy them. Design is a part of the Go to market.

The system is remarkably simple yet flexible enough.  In one word, elegant.

So, when designing enterprise applications and their go to market, we need to think Nespresso.

I was planning to do some sort of SOA-SaaS metaphor but I’d need  more than another espresso before  attempting that.


16 thoughts on “Simplicity, elegance and the Java bean.”

  1. Thomas,

    Great post! I love real life examples of our abstract software world.

    Congrats to Nestle because it seems like they actually get it. It looks as if they have hopped aboard the cluetrain. WooWoo!

    When it comes to my personal choice as a consumer, stories like yours are worth more than 1000 Super Bowl commercials. I believe I may go put my order in for Nespresso cube today. =)


  2. to square the circle its worth calling out why nestle had to get its act together. pressure from a new party out of leftfield- Starbucks. nestle had to get people drinking coffee at home again or keep seeing sales fall as coffee drinking migrated to bucks. so design led collaborative innovation. cool.

  3. I enjoy having my espresso at home (on premise) with my Francis X5 as well as out Peets (mobile SaaS) and via the Illy coffee plan (SaaS to complement my on premise) By the way Illy sold me their Espresso Machine at an incredible discount (razor ) so they could get me to by their coffee directly (blade). We have a fond spot in our American hearts for Illy because they made our experience around drinking coffee delightful.

  4. It’s all about matching the experience to the audience. I buy a small quantity of espresso blend for my manual espresso machine and a different varietal for my press pot from a local roaster every week. I chat up the two guys that run the roastery and the relationship with them along with the overall fuss and bother of the brewing processes are a part of the experience for me. A good friend buys beans at Starbucks or the grocery and uses a superautomatic for his espresso – one button and a minute later he’s sipping happily. I think my espresso tastes better but his hands-off, no-cleanup process suits him to a tee. The Nespresso/Jura/etc. devices make a decent cup but to Mike and James’ points, they are perfectly marketed to create an experience that blends ease with a sense of sophistication – the emotions behind the Starbucks experience, at home while establishing vendor lock-in. Very popular, but us coffee geeks would scoff.

    On another level – you and I ride custom road bikes with mixed components – my guess is Campy predominates and specialized ‘point solutions’ are used for non-core components. Would we buy an off-the-rack Trek or Specialized? Perhaps not, but legions of cyclists are enjoying theirs, they are assured that they have a quality machine and I for one am happy to see the sport popularized (at least here in the US).

    The beauty is in having the options to tune that interface to suit our tastes. One size does not fit all and there are many paths to enterprise nirvana. One thing I come across often is the notion that there’s only one way to build an interface or experience, and I reject that. You can use a Nespresso, a Rancilio, or even do as my next door neighbor does – run out to the nearest Starbucks every morining – and at the end we’ll all be drinking coffee together.


  5. Andy,
    Indeed, I’m all for a great espresso, I just don’t do cleaning well. (The bicycle takes all my cleaning genes)

    Too much software is built with the complex scenario as the default. Too often we force the complex onto the people who just want a quick cup. (Think Ed and the toner!)

  6. So I have sold some of these coffee machines (Nespresso – Jura). I am also a technology person. With Coffee I have taken the opposite approach. While all the high-tech gadgetry is very cool looking and appealing, it takes lots of space and like Nespresso, locks you into buying a particular type of coffee.

    I use the simple French Press. Boil water, pour over the coffee and press. Small footprint, high caffiene content and excellent taste. Espresso machines do not allow the water to be incontact with the coffee beans long enough to dissolve the caffiene as well as a French Press.

    Simple. Clean. Elegant.

  7. Normally I do not learn post on blogs, however I would like to say that this write-up very compelled me to check out and do it! Your writing style has been amazed me. Thanks, quite nice article.

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