This article originally appeared on the BeyeNETWORK
As the areas addressed by business performance management (BPM) and business intelligence (BI) have greatly expanded and technology has evolved, existing BPM and BIproducts have struggled to keeppace. For this reason, many vendors have introduced newly architected replacements. In addition, the vendors actively involved in last year’s merger and acquisition activity found themselveswith overlapping and redundant products. They are also creating replacements that take the best of their predecessors and add new functionality. The by-product of all of this activity is a graveyardfull of dead products – many currently installed at companies around the globe. How vendors kill off their old products and how end users react varies widely. In each case, there are goodapproaches and those less so.
At some point in time, every vendor needs to take a leap to a new product. This is different than the normal release process where they would try to fix bugs and cram in as many new enhancements asthey can fit (and have time for). Dramatic technology changes, major new areas of functionality or acquisitions often create the need to redesign and replace existing product offerings. While this isusually the right thing to do to stay competitive in the marketplace, it’s not without its major challenges. It is always a significant challenge to introduce a replacement product to thevendor’s customer base. Customers, while seeking new functionality, do not want to learn a new product, convert data and customization tables, nor do they want to pay for consulting or a fee toupgrade to the new product. If they don’t make the move, the vendor has a significant problem. These customers become a support burden. They also stop being usable as references (since they arenot on the new product that prospects are evaluating). The greatest risk is that this disgruntled group may consider moving to another vendor. When the competitors become aware of this group, theyoften target it with special offers. These make for perfect new customers – they are sour on your competitor and willing to talk about it.
So, how do the best of the BPM vendors handle this challenging transition? The first thing they do is communicate. They announce their intent to deliver a new product, and at the same time spell outthe wind-down plan for the existing solution. This enables users to make rational decisions based on real data. To get as many users as possible to make the move soon after the product’srelease, they will offer incentives in addition to the enticement of improved and enhanced functionality. For example, they may waive upgrade fees for some period of time and provide free conversionutilities for data and system configuration files. They can recoup some of the cost of this by charging maintenance fees calculated off of the new (higher) license fees. In addition, these customerconversions can quickly become early references for the new product. Lastly, they are protecting their client base and minimizing turnover.
The less open and honest vendors approach this situation a little differently (yes, unfortunately there are some). Quite often, they don’t announce, and if confronted won’t admit, that aproduct is dead. They will, of course, try to interest their customers in moving to new products they deliver. They just won’t tell them the one they are currently using has been discontinued.What actually happens in practice is that they quietly reassign the programmers and no longer enhance the product or fix bugs (except in dire situations where there is a newly discovered bug that isa showstopper). The thinking is that the product is already functionally robust enough to keep customers happy for years to come. As far as bugs go, it is assumed that most of the critical ones werefound and corrected long ago. From a support perspective, they will keep a skeleton crew of junior staff available to handle the occasional support call. Even this small group will shrink over time.The end result is that for minimal cost they can keep their customers in the dark and relatively happy so that they won’t consider looking at alternative solutions, and they will be able tocontinue their very profitable software maintenance revenue streams. Hopefully, when the customers need new functionality, they will consider their vendor’s newer offerings. The problem is thatsince they didn’t announce that the product was officially dead, it is frozen in time so to speak, and customers are making decisions based on incomplete data. Some companies may have policiesagainst using discontinued products for mission-critical processes (such as the front-office decision-making aspects of performance management). Armed with the true facts, some organizations may holdoff on training new groups on the system or investing in building new applications on that aging platform. Out of fear of customer defection, these vendors have done their customers a disservice bynot sharing their detailed product plans.
How do customers really know the status of their product, and what should they do with that information? Whether or not the vendor announces it, it is safe to assume that a product is dead or dyingwhen the vendor stops selling and marketing it. They will provide basic maintenance services for some period of time, but really limit any new investments in functionality. The senior staffassociated with it will move on to new challenges. So, what should a customer do with this knowledge? Start looking at alternatives and plan to migrate to a new BPM solution from this vendor orothers as soon as feasible. You don’t want to get stuck with a major bug while there is only a small second-tier team in place to fix it. What if your company adopts a new technology (newoperating system or new spreadsheet version, for example) that the product doesn’t already support? It is unlikely the vendor will make the level of investment required to upgrade the productto newer technologies if they are no longer selling it. At that point, you will be forced to make a hasty decision on a new product and perform a rushed implementation – not a situation youwant to be in. Instead you should carefully monitor your vendor’s product portfolio and make sure the product you are using is still an active part of their offerings. When that is no longerthe case, start evaluating alternatives. If your vendor turns out to be one of those that doesn’t share important information such as product demise with their customers, you almost certainlywant to get your next solution from a different vendor. Find the solution that meets your current and anticipated future requirements, and start planning your move.
Do you have similar or different experience in working with your current or former performance management or business intelligence vendor? I’d like to hear it. Feel free to contact meat firstname.lastname@example.org.