Don’t Get Blind-Sided by IT
How many times has this happened to you. You identify a new software program that will make your life easier and deliver ROI to your department, but just before you sign the deal, IT steps in, in a very public way, and says “we already have a product that can do that and we have lots of extra licenses“, even though the product doesn’t do what you need it to, doesn’t deliver ROI, and, to top it off, makes your life harder than it would be if you had no solution at all!
This doesn’t have to happen. Especially since you’re all on the same team and the only reason you want to buy the product is because it solves a problem that no other product in your arsenal does. To avoid this scenario, be sure to make your ROI case with the IT department first and get them on board. That way you can make sure that none of the solutions available solves your problem and present an even stronger case to management.
This will also address the slightly less common but still problematic “we can develop that for you and it will cost less and take less time than implementing yet another solution” when you know, based on past performance, that they damn well can’t because their skills are implementation, integration, maintenance, and support — not customized new supply chain management product development, which is an area they don’t have the requisite expertise in, to start. As any good software architect knows, many applications looks easy from the outside, but turn out to be much tougher to implement once you fully understand everything they must do in order to be useful. Then there’s all the effort it takes to “optimize” the code-base so that it’s as quick, efficient, and robust as possible. And let’s not forget QA, Beta Testing, and “tweaking” time. It all adds up. There’s a reason why the majority of internal development efforts fail, having wasted months of effort, accomplishing nothing, and wasting budget that should have been applied directly to an existing solution in the first place. (And if you can’t convince them, then you have time to bring in an outside consultant [like the doctor] who can evaluate the situation objectively and determine what the best solution is for your particular situation.)
Watch Out for the Big Lie
Some software vendors will lie and say “yes, we have that capability” even if they don’t have it at all and there are no plans to incorporate it in a future release, and many software vendors will give you a resounding “yes, we do” if they only have part of the capability, or have a similar capability that they believe is “close enough” to land the sale. And then, as per the urban legend, if you insist on it, they’ll price the missing feature really high in hopes that you will decide that you can’t afford it and / or don’t need it anyway. And they’re usually right (although I have heard of a few cases where the customer actually “bought it”; needless to say, those relationships didn’t go very well).
That’s not to say that you should not trust a vendor who claims they can produce a new feature they currently don’t have. Some can, and you have to give credit to any vendor who owns up to missing functionality and treats you honestly and fairly. But you should check them out before signing on the dotted line, as there is an easy way to assess the credibility of the claim. Ask them for a history of all new features added to the product over time, by release number and release date. If releases occur regularly, with significant new features being added every three to twelve months, they probably deserve the benefit of the doubt. However, if the change history looks suspiciously void of new functionality, especially over the past year or so, or if there haven’t been many changes or bug fixes, then the product is probably “walking dead”, and being phased out, and you should be skeptical of any claims of significant enhancement.
To understand why, you have to understand software developers and the nature of software. Software developers live to develop software. In fact, given the choice between a high paying, legacy support job and a low paying, exciting new development effort, the vast majority would choose the latter. As a result, when software isn’t under active development, key developers quickly move on to other projects, and often to other companies.
Furthermore, the nature of software is that the IP exists not in the code, but in the head of the developers who wrote it. Even though C++ (C, or C#) is a standardized language, and many programmers know it, the nature of a programming language is that there are many ways, often dozens, of accomplishing the same task and many acceptable programming styles. As a result, code is nowhere as easy to read as it is to write. And since your average enterprise software product will have hundreds of thousands, or millions, of lines of code, you can imagine how difficult it is for a new developer to lean an established code-base. It’s almost impossible for your average developer to learn the software well enough to add a significant new feature without breaking some key piece of functionality.
As a result, once software developers move on, so does most of the IP, and changes inevitably slow to a crawl. “New features” are reduced to minor bug fixes, eye candy, and cosmetic “enhancements” that add no new capability and mean nothing from an ROI perspective. A slick new user interface is just another form of “big lie”, and reviewers that avoid the hard-work of understanding the true value proposition of the product simply propagate the lie. (Unfortunately, some companies will get taken in by these cosmetic changes. I know of more than one situation where the vendor simply re-did all the application pages with a new color scheme and layout, and convinced the customer that the “new” application was “much better”, even though no new functionality was added. This happens in B2C software too. Take the Microsoft Ribbon, for example. There’s no value — all it does is eat your limited screen real estate and irritate those of us who know how to use a word processor. [There’s a reason the doctor moved to Mac and decided to stick with Office 2004.])