Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Fire, Ready, Aim!

I always loved that saying. It was one that was sunk into me by a colleague Barbara Baird of Lotus Organizer fame. No idea what she is doing now but man she had her finger on the pulse of how people really were and how they really acted.

I was recently talking to a Lotus employee about a bunch of stuff and was asked "why don't customers get the power of custom applications". My answer "don't forget people Act then Think versus Think then Act". It is not that customers don't get the power of custom applications it is that they don't think about it first anymore. The more I get out there really working with customers the more I see how true this is.

Customers say, "I want to be in better touch with my customers and partners so I need a CRM package". You have to read into that statement alone. What automatically brings them to conclude the fact that they need a CRM package? Well, someone told them. Next they say well I need to look at SAP or Oracle or Siebel or Saleforce.com (sorry MS Dynamics is not on the tip of the tongue yet). Why? Again because they have been influenced to think that these COTS (consumer off the shelf) based products are the best. So then what really happens. They buy one of these and end up spending thousands of dollars customizing it to have this report or that report or capture this data or that data blah blah blah....you get the picture.

In addition, custom applications have gotten a bad stigma over the past 3 or 4 years (especially in the public sector). CIOs and IT managers are afraid to build a best of breed solution for the most part because they are afraid if it doesn't work then they will get canned. Custom applications have always had the hard issue also of "now who will support it" or "what happens when one component gens itself and breaks the solution". Very few people anymore, sit there and think, "well I need the best workflow engine, the best database and indexing capabilities, the best search performance, the best data capture capabilities...etc...".

The sad truth though is that everyone needs custom applications. Software is about business and in the true sense of form follows function, not all businesses are ran the same. Do you really think Jeff Bezos used a COTS product to manage his shipping without at least customizing it to fit a unique on-line shopping model? To compete we have to be unique. To be unique you need systems that can adapt and react at business speed now.

This war around custom vs COTS is enabled by the advancement in the openness and robustness of the engines today but as always it will be won by the applications. How good is a motor without a car or boat to power? A good friend of mine, Peter O'Kelly, use to say "it's the apps stupid" all the way back in 1993 when we first started working on Lotus Notes together. How right he was. Luckily he didn't bet me $.07 then.

You want to win the war? You have to fight the battle on multiple fronts. Your platform/engine message needs to be targeted at the ISVs not the customers. You have to get them to realize you have some very unique pieces that could allow them to build better COTS products. You then have to help them take that message to the consumer that there are COTS products available on the platform. Either that or get into the COTS business yourself (which I would recommend at least for a certain amount of applications). Then in a high touch sales model convince them that your COTS is good but it is the ease of customization that makes the Solution powerful!


At 4:31 PM, July 25, 2006, Blogger Bill Buchan said...

How right you are. But how - as an ISV - can you actually do stuff if the company in charge of your infrastructure - say - Lotus Notes - have been trying to kill the product for the last five years and decimated the business parter ISV market.. ?


I know, I know..

---* Bill


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