It depends on the meaning of "good"?

I would like to stress the importance of building solutions that have utility to the end user. In Real Estate, the end user is typically the REALTOR® or the consumer, depending on the application. If you are producing a back-office or business application, your audience is the probably a REALTOR®. Similarly, front-office tools are built for the consumer.

If you purchase software-based solutions, you should consider the the thoughts of Jean-Baptiste Say, an influential economist who published his works in the early 1800’s:

The value of goods are derived from its utility to the user, not the labor spent in producing it.

I chuckle every time I hear a vendor say (oops, no pun intended) something like:

You don’t understand, this product is awesome because we have $4M in R&D behind it!

So what they are saying is that the tool must be good because of the dollars that have gone into it? Maybe the development budget is supposed to impress me? I question business models that have a lot of money poured in and result in very little organically derived results. Another motivation behind presenting products this way is that the vendor is pandering to the “techie” crowd. They try to impress you with business terms like “budget” and “investment”. This condescending approach reminds me of two memorable incidents from my past.

The first was from a salesmen who was explaining to me how good a tool was. He held up his fingers (as if playing charades) and made the quote sign as he explained that the tool was written in Java, a “programming language”. I was the CTO of the organization at the time and needless to say, the tool was not purchased.

The second story is more recent and was the result of being approached to engage a consulting company on some CRT projects. The salesman said “We have better people than anyone on your staff”. Of course, I could not resist the reply “Who do you know on our staff?”. The answer was “No one, but we have the best talent, trust me. You know Mark, it all about .NET these days”. I controlled my emotions and even offered a refill of his coffee before ending the meeting.

Let’s get back to the point though. After counting to ten to collect my composure, I typically ask one of the following questions of R&D based utility approaches:

  • How long did it take to develop?
  • How many people actually are using it?
  • Are you making money at selling this yet?
  • What was your inspiration for this product? (always a tough one to answer)

I am actually more impressed by tools that are novel and simple. These tend to provide utility to the end-user regardless of whether they are a REALTOR® or not. Overly complex tools are more often than not usually trying to “force” a solution on the market. Complex products require support structures that erode economic utility.

  1. I couldn’t agree more.

    Your post reminds me of a book I read recently by Lior Arussy called Innovating IT: Transforming IT From Cost Crunchers to Growth Drivers.

    His main argument is that if IT is to resist becoming merely a commodity to business, it needs to concentrate on information utilization not just information creation.

    He points out that every user (or REALTOR) learns and works differently. In order for IT to truly help business and serve a more strategic (and valuable) role, it needs to deliver information in a way so as to maximize its value to each individual user.

  2. Ha – I totally agree! I can’t tell you how many times I get approached with a product, the a significant selling point of which seems to be, “This is patented technology.” Good for you – now show me why this tool might be useful for our clients and their subscribers/members…

  3. One of the biggest banes on the industry is the technology vendor that doesn’t fundamentally understand the industry and how it operates. Without that understanding companies will continue to spawn and push more products into the marketplace. This is not always a bad thing because it pushes innovation, but at the end of the day, good is in the eye of the beholder, the user, the buyer, not the vendor. Just because it is a “good idea” doesn’t mean that it makes for a good product or business. When creating products the thought process seems to follow “hmmm, this is a good idea” without any real thought to whether or not the product truly provides value.

  4. I believe that in today’s development environment, a team of 2 or 3 "super programmers" can produce as much as the 40 person team that was the norm back in the dot com go-go days, especially if these programmers have as close a connection as possible to the end-users without layer upon layer of non-technical product managers, etc.