What value am I getting from this data?
If these are reference customers then I want to speak to a user at one of these organizations, hopefully in my industry, and have a frank conversation about the software I’m about to purchase. In all of my years in IT I have never once, yet, had an ISV that would allow me to speak directly to a reference customer.
I wonder why.
I don’t want to read a testimonial or see a quote. I want to speak to an actual user and ask questions about their satisfaction, implementation hurdles, on-call support nightmares, etc.
While I’m surfing a vendor’s website I also like to look for spelling mistakes and similar issues that make me think the vendor does not value quality and user experience.
I always research software I’m not familiar with on stackoverflow. SO is the one website that most technologists can’t live without. If a software package has a weak presence on SO then I won’t deploy that tool. Period.
I like to spend at least an hour reading the top entries on SO for the tool. What are the quality of the questions? What are the recurring questions? Are users generally satisfied or are there a lot of comments that indicate the software is functionally incomplete?
Thanks to stackoverflow I haven’t written an original line of code in at least 5 years. I copy/paste all of my code from stackoverflow. My guess is most developers do too!
Does the software package have a thriving user community? Does the vendor host user groups, sponsor meetups, or speak at industry conferences? Years ago you could gauge community interest by looking at the forums on the vendor’s website. I’m less interested in these forums since most discourse is occurring on stackoverflow these days. However, if I see a forum is “closed”, requires a subscription or paid support, or is heavily moderated…it raises my suspicions. Why should I pay a fee to have access to a forum where the users are primarily solving problems I have with the software?
One benefit of forums is participants tend to be more honest about their true feelings about the software and especially the support (or lack of it) team. This discourse is often eye-opening. Not all vendors will allow this much openness. Be wary of paywalled support forums.
In today’s world I don’t want to deploy software that requires my team to manage infrastructure. Minimally I expect the software to run in a container that I can customize and scale on Kubernetes. I don’t want to deal with backups and VM patching. I always prefer first and third party Azure offerings for these reasons. I want to focus on solving business problems, not operations problems.
It’s always worthwhile to see what Gartner, Forrester, and the other industry analysts think of a software vendor and where it ranks versus its peers. Minimally, you will get a list of alternative software packages and vendors to research.
To be honest, I don’t put much faith in industry analyst opinions. In most cases the analysts have never actually used the software and are generating their opinions based on interview data and feedback from large corporate customers. Many of these big customers are, in fact, defending their purchasing decisions instead of objectively evaluating the software under review. And then of course there are the uncomfortable relationships between vendors and analysts. It’s not always clear who is funding a research report.
I see this a lot…salesmen present the wrong tools to development teams. Don’t do this. Understand your audience.
Most developers just want to know if the tool is going to add more friction to their day.
Most software vendors want to send you to free training. Training is great, but is not a substitute for hands-on experience. Demand a rapid prototype. Use the business problem you want to solve with this new software as the use case to do a 3 day rapid prototype. You won’t solve the business problem in 3 days, but you want your team to walk away with a better idea of “a day in the life” of using this software. Is the software cumbersome? Does it handle your team’s development concerns? What are the rough edges? A few pointers on rapid prototypes:
The Microsoft Technology Center helps customers make technology decisions. The MTC mandate is to be the Trusted Advisor for our customers. We do that by showing how data can add business value. The tech is easy, what’s hard is understanding the processes that work. We never make technology recommendations until we understand your business problem and the culture and capabilities of your team. (I’ve been told this is refreshing).
I recommend to every customer that they run a small-scale Rapid Prototype before making any technology decisions. Training is great, but there is no replacement for hands-on experience. At the MTC we advocate 3-day rapid prototypes. We know we can’t solve your business problem in a few days, but we want you to walk away with a better understanding of our best practices and processes, as well as how our software will fit with your team.
MTC architects are seasoned technology veterans, consultants, and former executives. We’ve used our tools for years, we’ve worked with our product teams to make them better, and we can evaluate which tools will work best for your unique team. We also know the tool is less important than understanding the underlying domain-knowledge, patterns, and processes that lead to successfully solving complex business problems.
Does that sound like a partner you can trust? Does “3 days” for a rapid prototype sound like a good investment of your time? Before you start your next technology project contact me on LI and let me show you a different approach to solving problems.
Are you convinced your data or cloud project will be a success?
Most companies aren’t. I have lots of experience with these projects. I speak at conferences, host hackathon events, and am a prolific open source contributor. I love helping companies with Data problems. If that sounds like someone you can trust, contact me.
Thanks for reading. If you found this interesting please subscribe to my blog.
Dave Wentzel CONTENT
Digital Transformation Architecture