A lifetime of maintenance and support?

by Frank 31. March 2013 06:00

I run a software company manufacturing enterprise content management products that has been offering maintenance on its products for nearly 30 years and that has never failed to produce at least one major update per year during that time. We have also always offered multiple year options for our software maintenance. We call it the ASU, Automatic Software Upgrade. We currently offer 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 year terms; the longer the term, the lower the cost per year.

I got the idea for a new software maintenance offering from Garmin, the satellite navigation company. Essentially, I bought a Garmin because the manufacturer of a car I bought in 2008 stopped issuing updates to its integrated satellite navigation system and it is now pretty useless as it doesn’t know about all the new and changed road systems.

An attraction of the Garmin was that they offered a ‘lifetime’ supply of updated maps for a single fee that I could download up to four times a year. The end result is that my Garmin is always up to date with all new and changed roads and is one hundred-percent useful while the satellite navigation system in my car is now useless because it is so out of date.

As well as the advantage of always being up to date the Garmin deal was great because it was a single transaction; I don’t have to worry about renewing it every year and I don’t have to worry about future cost increases.

I thought why not offer a similar deal to RecFind 6 customers? They too have to keep up to date and they too don’t want to worry about having to budget and renew the ASU every year and future cost increases.

In our case we chose to re-name the five year ASU option to the ‘Lifetime’ option. If you choose the Lifetime option you automatically receive all updates for as long as you use RecFind 6 and you also receive free support via email and our web form for as long as you use RecFind 6.

The fee is one-time and the price is therefore fixed for life. You no longer have to worry about budgeting and contracting for renewals every year and your RecFind 6 software will continue to be relevant, fully supported and improved with new and enhanced functionality.

If at any time in the future a customer purchases new software from us or additional licences they can be added to its Lifetime ASU for a single one-time fee.

Frank’s perspective:

For the record, I buy a lot of software for our development team and none offer lifetime maintenance; all only offer annual maintenance and it is very expensive (up to 25% of the value of the software) and the price seems to go up every year. If I could convince my software vendors to offer a lifetime deal I would jump at the offer.”

Frank McKenna | Knowledgeone Corporation
CEO & Sales & Marketing Director
f.mckenna@knowledgeonecorp.com

Why aren’t more software vendors offering this same maintenance option?

Why isn’t Linux the universal desktop operating system?

by Frank 9. September 2012 06:00

I own and run a software company building enterprise content management solutions (RecFind 6) and I have a love/hate relationship with Microsoft Windows.

I love Windows because it is a universal platform I can develop for that provides me access to ninety-percent plus of the business and government organizations in the world.  I only need one set of source code and one set of development skills and I can leverage off this to offer my solutions to virtually any organization in any location. We may say that Microsoft Windows is ubiquitous.

I hate Windows because it is overly complex, unnecessarily difficult to build software for, buggy and causes me to have to spend far more money on software development than I ought to. There are many times each year when all I really want to do is assemble all the Microsoft programmers in one place and then bang their heads together and shout at them, “for heaven’s sake, why don’t you guys just talk to each other!”

Linux on the other hand, even in its many manifestations (one of its main problems), is not ubiquitous and it does not provide me with an entry point to ninety-percent of the world’s businesses and government agencies. This is why I don’t develop software for Linux.

Because I don’t develop application software for Linux I am not an expert in Linux but I have installed and run Ubuntu as a desktop operating system and I really like it. It is simple, clean and easy to use; more ‘Apple-like’ than ‘Windows-like’ to my eyes and all the better for it. It is also a great software development platform for programmers especially using the Eclipse IDE. It is also free and most of the office software you need (like OpenOffice) is also free. It also runs happily on virtually any PC or notebook and seems to be a lot faster than Windows.

So, Ubuntu (a flavour of Linux but a very good one) is free, most of the office software you need is also free, it looks good, runs on your hardware and is easy to use and uncomplicated. So why isn’t it ubiquitous? Why are people and organizations all over the world paying for (and struggling with – who remembers Vista?) inferior Windows when Linux varieties like Ubuntu are both free and better? Why are users and organizations now planning to pay to upgrade to Windows 7 or Windows 8 when alternative operating systems like Ubuntu will do the job and are free?

I read a lot of technical papers and IT blogs and I notice that the Linux community has been having similar discussions for years. As an ‘outsider’ (i.e., not a Linux zealot) it is pretty obvious to me that the Linux community is the main reason Linux is not ubiquitous. Please read the following ZDNet link and then tell me what you think.

http://www.zdnet.com/linus-torvalds-on-the-linux-desktops-popularity-problems-7000003641/

When I read an article like this two terms come immediately to mind, internecine bickering or sibling rivalry. How many versions of Linux do we need? The Linux fraternity calls these distributions or ‘distros’ to the insiders.  At last count there are around 600 ‘distros’ of which 300 are actively maintained.  Ubuntu is just one of these distros. How would the business world fare if there were 300 versions of Windows? Admittedly, most of the 300 have been built for a specialised use and the real list of general use versions of Linux is much smaller and includes product names such as Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Fedora, Mint, Debian, Arch, openSUSE, Red hat and about a dozen more.

But, it gets worse. On Ubuntu alone there are there main desktop environments to choose from, GNOME, KDE and Xfce.  Are you confused yet? Is it now obvious why Linux is not the default desktop operating system? It probably isn’t obvious to the squabbling Linux insider community but it is patently obvious to everyone else.

Linux isn’t the default desktop operating system because there is not a single standard and there is never likely to be a single standard. No software developer is going to invest millions of dollars in building commercial applications for Linux because of this. Without a huge library of software applications there is no commercial market for Linux. Windows reigns supreme despite its painful problems because it provides a single platform and because software developers do invest in building millions of commercial applications for the windows operating system.

Until such time as the Linux community stops its in-fighting and produces a single robust, supported version of Linux (when hell freezes over I hear you say) the situation will not change. The inferior desktop operating system Windows will continue to dominate and Linux will remain the plaything of propeller-heads and techies and old guys like me who really like it (well, the Ubuntu version that is, there are too many distros for me to become an expert in all of them and that is the core of the problem).

Have you considered Cloud processing? There are significant benefits

by Frank 6. May 2012 06:00

Most of us have probably become more than a little numbed to the onslaught of Cloud advertising and the promotion of the ‘Cloud’ as the salvation for everyone and the panacea for everything. The Cloud is promoted by its aggrandizers as being both omnipotent and omniscient; both qualities I only previously associated with God.

This is not to say that moving business processing to the Cloud is not a good thing; it certainly is. I just wish that the promoters would tone down the ‘sell’ and clearly explain the benefits and advantages without the super-hype.

Those of us with long memories clearly recall the early hype about what was then called ASP or Application Service Processing or even Application Service Provider. This was the early progenitor of the Cloud and despite massive hype it did not fly. The reasons were simple, neither the technology nor the software (application and system) were up to the job. Great idea, pity it was about five years before its time.

Unfortunately, super-hype in our industry is usually associated with immature and unproven technology. Wiser, older people nod sagely and then wait a few years for the technology to catch up with the promises.

As an older (definitely) and wiser (hopefully) person I am now ready to accept that all the technology required for successful and secure Cloud processing is now available and proven; albeit being ‘improved’ all the time so still take care not to rush in with experimental technology.

As with many new technologies the secret is KISS; Keep It Simple Stupid. If it seems too complex then it is too complex. If the sales person can’t answer all of your questions clearly and unambiguously then walk away.

Most importantly, make sure you know all about all of the parties involved in the transaction. For example:

1.    What is the name of the data centre?

2.    Where is it located?

3.    Who ‘owns’ the rack and equipment and software at the data centre?

4.    What are the redundant features?

5.    What are the backup and recovery options?

6.    Is your vendor the owner of the co-hosted facility or do they subcontract to someone else? If they sub-contract is the company they subcontract to the owner or are they too just part of a chain of ‘hidden’ middle-men? It is critical for you to understand this chain of responsibility because if something goes wrong you need to know who to chase.

There are a lot more questions you need to ask but this Blog isn’t the place to list them all. I am sure your IT team and application owners will come up with plenty more. If they don’t, wake them up and demand questions.

Most small to medium organizations today simply do not have the time or expertise to run a computer room and manage and maintain a rack of servers. There is also a dearth of ‘real’ expertise and a plethora of phonies out there so hiring someone who is actually smart enough to manage your critical infrastructure is a very difficult exercise made more so by most business owners and managers simply not understanding the requirements or technology. It often becomes a case of the blind hiring the almost blind.

Most small to medium enterprises also cannot afford the redundancy required to ensure a stable and reliable infrastructure. A fifteen minute UPS is no substitute for a redundant bank of diesel generators and a guaranteed clean power supply.

Why should small to medium enterprises have to buy servers and networks and IT support? It isn’t part of their core business and this stuff should not be weighing down the balance sheet. Why should they be devoting scarce and expensive management time to activities that are not part of their core business?

In-house computer rooms will soon be become as rare as dinosaurs and this is how it should be, they are an anachronism in this time and age; out of time and out of place.

All smart and business savvy small to medium organizations should be planning to progressively move all their processing to the Cloud so as to lower costs, improve service levels and reduce management stress. I say progressively because it is still wise to get wet slowly and to take little steps. Just like with your first two-wheel bicycle, it pays to practice with the training wheels on first. That way, you usually avoid those painful falls.

I like to think I am a little wiser because I still have scars from gravel rash when I was a kid. I am moving my RecFind 6 customers to the Cloud and I am moving my in-house processing to the Cloud but just like you, I am doing it slowly and carefully and triple-checking every aspect. I don’t take risks with my customers or my business and neither should you.

One last thing, I have the advantage of being very IT literate and of having a top IT team working for me so we have the in-house expertise required to correctly evaluate and select the most appropriate technology and options. If you do not have this level of in-house IT expertise then please take extra care and try to find someone to assist who does have the level of IT knowledge required. Once you sign up, it is too late. Buyer’s remorse is not a solution to any problem.

Are you running old and unsupported software? What about the risks?

by Frank 29. April 2012 20:59

Many years ago we released a 16 bit product called RecFind version 3.2 and we made a really big mistake. We gave it so much functionality (much of it way ahead of its time) and we made it so stable that we still have thousands of users.

It is running under operating systems like XP it was never developed for or certified for and is still ‘doing the job’ for hundreds of our customers. Most frustratingly, when we try to get them to upgrade they usually say, “We can’t justify the expense because it is working fine and doing everything we need it to do.”

However, RecFind 3.2 is decommissioned, unsupported and, the databases it uses (Btrieve, Disam and an early version of SQL Server) and also no longer supported by their vendors.

So our customers are capturing and managing critical business records with totally unsupported software. Most importantly, most of them also do not have any kind of support agreement with us (and this really hurts because they say they don’t need a support agreement because the system doesn’t fail) so when the old system catastrophically fails, which it will, they are on their own.

Being a slow learner, ten years ago I replaced RecFind 3.2 and RecFind 4.0 with RecFind 5.0, a brand new 32 bit product. Once again I gave it too much functionality and made it way too stable. We now have hundreds of customers still using old and unsupported versions of RecFind 5.0 and when we try to convince them to upgrade we get that same response, “It is still working fine and doing everything we need it to do.”

If I was smarter I would have built-in a date-related software time bomb to stop old systems from working when they were well past their use-by date. However, that would have been a breach of faith so it is not something we have or will ever do. It is still a good idea, though probably illegal, because it would have protected our customers’ records far better than our old and unsupported systems do now.

In my experience, most senior executives talk about risk management but very few actually practice it. All over the world I have customers with millions of vital business records stored and managed in systems that are likely to fail the next time IT updates desktop or server operating systems or databases. We have warned them multiple times but to no avail. Senior application owners and senior IT people are ignoring the risk and, I suspect, not making senior management aware of the inevitable disaster. They are not managing risk; they are ignoring risk and just hoping it won’t happen in their reign.

Of course, it isn’t just our products that are still running under IT environments they were never designed or certified for; this is a very common problem. The only worse problem I can think of is the ginormous amount of critical business data being ‘managed’ in poorly designed, totally insecure and teetering-on-failure, unsupportable Access and Excel systems; many of them in the back offices of major banks and financial institutions. One of my customers called the 80 or so Access systems that had been developed across his organization as the world’s greatest virus. None had been properly designed, none had any security and most were impossible to maintain once a key employee or contractor had left.

Before you ask, yes we do produce regular updates for current products and yes we do completely redesign and redevelop our core systems like RecFind about every five years to utilize the very latest technology. We also offer all the tools and services necessary for any customer to upgrade to our new releases; we make it as easy and as low cost as possible for our customers to upgrade to the latest release but we still have hundreds of customers and many thousands of users utilizing old, unsupported and about-to-fail software.

There is an old expression that says you can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. I am starting to feel like an old, tired and very frustrated farmer with hundreds of thirsty horses on the edge of expiration. What can I do next to solve the problem?

Luckily for my customers, Microsoft Windows Vista was a failure and very few of them actually rolled it out. Also, luckily for my customers, SQL Server 2005 was a good and stable product and very few found it necessary to upgrade to SQL Server 2008 (soon to be SQL Server 2012). This means that most of my customers using old and unsupported versions of RecFind are utilizing XP and SQL Server 2005, but this will soon change and when it does my old products will become unstable and even just stop working. It is just good luck and good design (programmed tightly to the Microsoft API) that some (e.g., 3.2) still work under XP. RecFind 3.2 and 4.0 were never certified under XP.

So we have a mini-Y2K coming but try as I may I can’t seem to convince my customers of the need to protect their critical and irreplaceable (are they going to rescan all those documents from 10 years ago?) data. And, as I alluded to above, I am absolutely positive that we are only one of thousands of computer software companies in this same position.

In fairness to my customers, the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 was a major factor in the disappearance of upgrade budgets. If the call is to either upgrade software or retain staff then I would also vote to retain staff. Money is as tight as it has ever been and I can understand why upgrade projects have been delayed and shelved. However, none of this changes the facts or averts the coming data-loss disaster.

All over the world government agencies and companies are managing critical business data in old and unsupported systems that will inevitably fail with catastrophic consequences. It is time someone started managing this risk; are you?

 

Project Management – just what does it entail?

by Frank 15. April 2012 06:00

In a previous career with mainframes I spent eight years as a large scale project manager and then a further two years as the international operations manager managing a number of project managers at troubled projects around the world. Those ten years taught me a great deal about what it takes to be a successful project manager and conversely, why some project managers fail.

Notice that I said why some project managers fail, not why some projects fail. It is cause and effect; projects only fail when the project manager fails to do the job required. This particular concept separates good project managers from bad project managers. Good project managers take full responsibility for the success or failure of their projects, bad project managers don’t.

Good project managers are ‘glass-half-full’ people, bad project managers are ‘glass-half-empty’ people. Good project managers are leaders, bad project managers are victims.

So the first piece of advice is to choose your project manager carefully. You want a strong willed, bright and energetic doer, not a facilitator or politician. You want a strong leader, not a careful and political follower; you want Jesus, not the disciples.

The next piece of advice is that you should set quantitative criteria for project success. No ambiguity or motherhood or weaselly words, as the Dragnet cop used to say, “Just the facts Mam.” In my day it was easy, we had to install the new hardware and software, convert from the old system, design and program the new applications and then take the whole system through a 30 day acceptance test with 99% uptime. There was always a contract and the conditions of acceptance were always clearly laid out and assiduously referred to by the customer. We knew what we had to achieve and there was no ambiguity.

Unfortunately, one of the problems with a lot of projects is that the conditions for acceptance and success are not clearly articulated or documented. But, a good project manager will always make sure that the scope and objectives and expected outcomes are clearly defined regardless before accepting the challenge. The bad project manager on the other hand is always happy that there isn’t a clear definition of success because the bad project manager wants to make judging his or her performance as difficult as possible.

I once fired a project manager who told me in three meetings in a row that he had not completed the requested project plan because the project was too complex. Obviously the more complex the project the more its needs a comprehensive project plan otherwise it will be impossible to manage. My failed project manager didn’t want to document the project plan because he didn’t want deadlines and he didn’t want to be judged on how well he was meeting deadlines.

It sounds like an over-simplification but if you want a successful project then choose a successful project manager, one who accepts full responsibility for all outcomes and one who is committed to success.

As part of the interview process, ask them what their philosophy of responsibility is. As an example, here is one I always used.

“Everything that happens is due to me because everything that happens is either due to something I did or something I didn’t do.”

I have never found a good project manager who had a problem with this credo. Bad project managers on the other hand, see it as anathema to their survival strategies. Good project managers accept full responsibility for success or failure, bad project managers do not.

Good project managers also don’t spend all day in an office playing with Excel and Microsoft Project. Nor do they spend all day in meetings or on conference calls. Good project managers integrate themselves into the very bowels of the project and ‘walk-and-talk’ on a daily basis.

Walk and talk refers to the practice of meeting with real workers at all levels of the project, especially end users. Good project managers make the time to talk to end users every day and because of this they know more about what is happening than any senior manager. They are ‘in-touch’ with the project and are constantly aware of changes, problems and successes. Good project managers who practice the walk and talk technique are never surprised in project or management meetings because they always know more than anyone else at the meeting and they always have the very latest information. This is probably why they are such good project managers. If you aren’t prepared to invest at least one hour of your time every day walking and talking to real users then you shouldn’t be a project manager.

Good project managers also always know how to select and manage their team. Because they are natural leaders, management is a natural and comfortable process for them. There is never any doubt in a good project manager’s team about who the leader is and who will make the final decisions and then take responsibility for them. There is no disseminated responsibility. The opposite is always true in a bad project manager’s team with disseminated responsibility and no clear record of who made what decision.

The calibre of the bad project manager’s team is always significantly lower than that of the good project manager’s team. This is because mediocre people always hire mediocre people and a bad project manager is afraid of strong capable staff because he or she finds them threatening. A good project manager on the other hands loves working with strong capable people and revels in the ongoing challenge of managing them. A good project manager is never threatened by strong capable staff, au contraire; he seeks them out because they make it easier for him (or her) to be successful.

There is no magical formula that will ensure a successful project, completed on time and on budget and with all contracted deliverables accepted and signed off. It also doesn’t matter what project management tool you use as long as you do use a project management tool. I don’t particularly like the latest version of Microsoft Project (and that is an understatement) but if required I could use it to manage any project no matter how big and how complex. It isn’t the tool; it is the person that counts.

This is simple advice like my favourite about how to do well on the stock market, “buy low and sell high.” If you want a successful project, always start with a successful project manager. He or she will take care of everything else.

Workflow – What does it really entail?

by Frank 8. April 2012 06:00

Workflow has been defined as “the glue that binds business processes together.” Depending upon your background and experience that particular definition may or may not be as clear as mud. Despite having been a key factor in business application processing for a very long time workflow is still very poorly understood by many in business and is more often than not too narrowly defined.

For example, you do not need to pay big bucks for a heavy-duty workflow package and all the services associated with it to implement workflow in your organization. Workflow is really about automating some business process using whatever tool is appropriate. You can automate a business process with Word or Excel or Outlook for that matter and the most common starting point is to first capture a paper document as a digital document using simple tools like a document scanner. You don’t even need a computer (apart from the human brain, the world’s best computer) to implement workflow.

Designing and implementing workflow is more about the thought processes, about evaluating what you are doing and why you are doing it and then trying to figure out a better and more efficient way to do it. It is about documenting and analysing a current business process and then redesigning it to make it more appropriate and more efficient. It is by making it more efficient that you make productivity gains; ideally, you end up doing more with less and adding more value.

You shouldn’t undertake any investigation of new workflows without first having defined objectives and metrics. You should also always begin with some basic questions of your staff or end-users:

  1. What are you doing now that you think could be done better?
  2. What aren’t you doing now that you think you should be doing?
  3. What are you doing now that you don’t think is necessary?

I call these the three golden questions and they have served me well throughout my consulting career. They are simple enough and specific enough that most end-users can relate to them and produce answers. These three simple questions provide the foundation for any business process re-engineering to come. They are also the catalyst to kick off the required thought processes in your end-users. Out of these three simple questions should come many more questions and answers and the information you need to solve the problem.

In every case in the past I have been able to add value well before using tools and creating workflows just by suggesting changes to current manual business processes. As I said earlier, workflow is really about thought processes, “How can I do this in a better and more efficient way?”

Adding value always begins by saving time and money and usually also entails providing better access to information. Real value in my experience is about ensuring that workers have access to the precise information they need (not more and not less) at the precise time they need it (not earlier and not later).  It sound simple but it is the root of all successful business processes, that is, “please just give me what I need when I need it and then I can get the job done.” Modern ‘just-in-time’ automated production lines only work if this practice is in place; it is fundamental to the low cost, efficient and high quality production of any product or service.

When something ‘just works’ very few of us notice it but when something doesn’t work well it frustrates us and we all notice it. Frustrated workers are not happy or productive workers. If we do our job well we take away the sources of frustration by improving work processes to the point where they ‘just work’ and are entirely appropriate and efficient and allow us to work smoothly and uninterrupted without frustration and delays. This should be our objective when designing new workflows.

Metrics are important and should always be part of the project. You begin by taking measurements at the beginning and then after careful analysis, predict what the measurements will be after the project. You must have a way of measuring, using criteria agreed beforehand with your end-users, whether or not you have been successful and to what degree. It is a very bad trades person who leaves without testing his work. We have all had experiences with bad trades people who want to be paid and away before you test the repaired appliance, roof or door. Please do not be a bad trades person.

Metrics are the way we test our theory. For example, “If we re-engineer this series of processes the way I have recommended you will save two hours of time per staff member per day and will be able to complete the contract review and sign off within two days instead of seven days.” The idea is to have something finite to measure against. We are talking quantitative as opposed to qualitative measurement. An example of a qualitative measurement would be, “If we re-engineer this series of processes the way I have recommended everyone will be happier.” Metrics are a quantitative way to measure results.

In summary, implementing workflow should always be about improving a business process; about making it better, more appropriate and more efficient. Any workflow project should begin with the three golden questions and must include defined objectives and quantitative metrics. The most important tool is the human brain and the thought processes that you will use to analyse current processes and design improved processes. Every new workflow should add value; if it doesn’t you should not be doing it.

Critically, workflow must be about improving the lot of your staff or end users. It is about making a process easier, more natural, less frustrating and even, more enjoyable. The staff or end users are the only real judges because no matter how clever you think your solution is if they don’t like it, it will never work.

The importance of partnering in the new online sales paradigm

by Frank 25. March 2012 06:00

A company’s website is said to be its window to the world. It is supposed to be the portal through which business flows in from all corners of the globe. (Now that is a silly expression, since when did a globe have corners?) Notwithstanding the silly expression, the Internet and a company’s website are supposed to be the foundation of the modern marketing paradigm. In this new model, everything will be sold online and Cloud and SaaS will be the most used and abused marketing terms.

However, there are a couple of minor flaws in this model.

Have you ever tried to do an online demonstration or presentation to 27 people, all with different agendas? I have and it is almost impossible to be effective in this environment.

Have you ever tried to understand the nuances of a complex commercial application requirement using only the telephone, email and online sessions? I have and it is impossible to really understand one hundred-percent of the requirement.

Sure you can sell books and computers online but it is a far from perfect model when selling complex application systems that will eventually be integral to the successful operation of your customer’s business.

In our business we make good use of technology to better communicate with our customers and prospects all around the world. We in fact couldn’t operate without the Citrix tools GoToAssist, GoToMeeting and GoToTraining. They, or tools like them, are essential for running a software and services company like ours with customers all around the world.

In this day and age, and especially after the GFC, no company can afford to have ‘local’ staff in every town, state or country where it does business. Nor can any company, no matter how big, afford to fly pre-sales staff in for every one-hour demo requested by a prospect or every one or two hour support session for a customer.

However, in our sales cycle (application software) there are still many things that are best done face to face and there are some things, like application consulting, that can only be done face to face.

At this time we handle the face to face requirement by telling people we hire for consulting and support jobs that they must be available to travel and frequently, both inter-state and internationally. We make this requirement a prominent part of the job add and the interviews. Having a ‘flying squad’ of support people and application consultants is now an integral and essential part of our sales paradigm and from the customer’s viewpoint it works very well. But, it is a far from perfect solution from our viewpoint because of the high cost and lost time or ‘opportunity-cost’ of dead time spent in transit.

The flying squad will always be an important tool for us when delivering solutions but as we grow it needs to be supplemented and complemented by partnerships with local firms with the skillsets our customers require.

A few years ago, conscious of this need to partner, I registered a new website called bizzpartnerships.com with the intention of starting a new business primary designed to locate and connect business partners all around the globe. Sadly, the pressure of running and growing this business didn’t leave me much time and like a lot of good ideas, it is gathering dust.

It is still a great idea because there are literally millions of businesses like mine that need partners to both win and support customers; partners that can provide that essential face to face contact that is sorely missing from most modern business models. It fact, the situation worsens year by year as vendors cut costs and outsource almost every function to countries like India, China and the Philippines. I stopped dealing with a well-known hardware vendor because they told me my account manager would no longer be local but would be based in a call centre in India. I have gone from spending millions with this company to spending absolutely nothing.

Notice I am not talking about outsourcing, which I hate, but partnering, which I love. Anyone who wants to know how I feel about outsourcing should read one of my previous Blogs:

http://www.knowledgeonecorp.com/blog/post/2012/02/05/Outsourcing-will-destroy-the-west.aspx

Partnering provides that much needed and much appreciated local, face to face contact; outsourcing takes it away.

My prime objective from this point on will be to forge partnerships with companies that can add value to my customers. I believe that this is an essential component of the still maturing online model.

So, if you are reading this blog and you are part of or know of a quality customer-centric services company that can add value to an enterprise content management software installation then please let me know about it. In a good partnership, everyone benefits, especially the customer.

What is the future of Software applications in 2013 and beyond?

by Frank 5. March 2012 06:00

As we all know, the world of IT and applications is changing rapidly and most of us application software vendors are trying to second-guess where the market is heading. The two key questions are:

  1. How should we deliver applications? and
  2. What should we be developing?

If we read and believe the IT press, especially the IT industry blogs, we should all be convinced by now that every application needs to be delivered on a mobile device. However, I am not fully convinced because I am a long-term and avid user of mobile devices, smartphone and iPad, and my experience tells me that mobile devices still don’t have the capabilities I need to be able to run all the applications I use. I also struggle to understand how to make my applications totally usable on mobile devices, especially smartphones.

For example, my smartphone is invaluable for checking and responding to emails when on the move. It is small, light, convenient (it sits in my shirt pocket) and has a long battery life. It also ‘connects’ to the Internet from most locations and 3G/4G and Wi-Fi services provide acceptable performance for email monitoring. But, it isn’t suitable for reading big documents and it isn’t suitable for lengthy responses. It is also painful when accessing web pages; the processor is too slow, the screen is just way too small and the QWERTY keyboard too small and too awkward for anything other than simple responses.

The iPad 2 is a lot better mainly because it has a bigger screen and more usable keyboard but it is still far from perfect.  Whenever I have to do real work (like writing this blog or writing program specifications), I end up working on my powerful laptop or desktop.

Strangely though, when I look at my laptop and desktop and all those messy cables and connections they look like museum pieces next to my iPad 2. In my opinion, the industry is somewhere between the old paradigm and the new paradigm but we haven’t got there just yet. Today’s mobile devices are a good first attempt but they don’t yet have what it takes to replace the desktop and laptop for serious business users.

The choice for us really comes down to developing and delivering software applications in either native mobile app mode (e.g., iPad apps developed in Xcode) or web-client mode (i.e., ‘thin-client’ applications that run in a browser and are developed using tools like HTML5, JavaScript and Ajax).

The web-client model is the best for us because it provides platform independence and the lowest cost delivery model. That is, it enables your application for all types of mobile devices as well as traditional notebooks and desktops and it is delivered just by the end user typing in a URL. It also only requires a single set of source code rather than the multiple sets of source code required to support native mobile apps for devices like the Android phone, iPad and Blackberry. It is therefore the lowest cost to develop and maintain and the lowest cost to roll out and support.

Ironically, the web-client model is also very old technology and I am surprised that after all these years we don’t have anything better to replace it.

As to what we should be developing, well that is literally the (multi) million dollar question. Our traditional fare is Enterprise Content Management software (ECM) or more simply, Information Management software. The ECM bag includes a host of horizontal market applications like document management software, records management software, contract management software, knowledge management software, etc. Our product RecFind 6 provides all of the above capabilities.

So, given that we already have a pretty clever and flexible ‘multi-application’ solution what should we replace it with or, what should we add to it? More importantly, what do customers need and want and even more importantly, what are they prepared to pay for?

Our customers happily tell us all the time about the new and extended functionality they would like to see in our products but usually their assumption is that we will fund the changes and provide the extended functionality free as part of a future upgrade. Usually they are right because we continually add new and improved features to successive upgrades provided under the customer’s maintenance agreement. However, for software vendors wanting to provide additional value and grow revenues, the real question is “is there a totally new product the majority of customers would need and want and be happy to pay for? “

I spend a lot of time thinking about this question. “What can I design and build that will provide significant value to a customer?” So much value in fact that the customer will be more than happy to outlay the funds to buy it. You might say it is the Holy Grail of software development, often called the ‘Killer App’. It may come as a surprise to those outside of our industry but many software developers spend enormous amounts of time and money building products no one buys.

A great idea doesn’t necessarily translate to success in the market. Similarly, because a customer says it wants something it does not necessarily follow that it will be willing to pay for it. As a software developer you have to ask the question, “If I build it, will you buy it?” This sounds a bit like Kevin Costner and his field of dreams movie, “Build it and they will come”, but in our case that isn’t necessarily true.

I have lots of ideas and have written lots of specifications and have built lots of applications but that killer app still eludes me. It must be time again to go out and ask our customers, “What would you like us to build? What application or feature or functionality would make a real difference to the running of your business? What application functionality do you need most of all? What do you believe will add the most value to your business? What would you like us to build next?”

Customers always have great ideas and they are often able to think outside the square. Software developers like us are more often than not too close to the problem. Now let’s see what they tell me, maybe that killer app is just around the corner, just like that next big lottery win.

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