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Chris Bliss

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Community feedback is good. Kinda.

In the good ‘ole days when software still need installing and executives regularly printed their emails, software “support” was a strange thing. Sure, Microsoft had helplines you could call, and Quicken came with a manual, but it wasn’t “support” per se: more like a robotic attempt to appease the odd granny or two. Software personified the impersonal.

These days that’s all changing. As cloud computing and SaaS go mainstream, software vendors are increasingly connected with consumers more directly and more personally than ever before. Developers tweet back and forth with users: execs explain project trajectories in company blogs: support forums patrol themselves with dedicated fans. It’s an entirely different ecosystem.

In a lot of ways, the increase in channels of access has lead to better support. Visit any popular app’s forum, knowledge base or helpdesk and you’ll see heaps of answers to popular questions, users voting on future bug fixes and enhancements, and inter-user dialogue about a product’s worth. As far as support goes, it’s transparent, freely available, and generally quite good.

But the situation isn’t all roses and rainbows. In the good ‘ole days when support sucked, developers had the luxury of designing products in relative isolation. They designed a product, released it, mucked around with it for a few years *presumably* improving it, and released it again. These days developers not only have to defend every design or implementation choice they make, but they have to analyze, respond to, and either accept or defend against every unique user request, which come by the trillions. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing: vendor accountability is at an all-time high, which is good, and developers get new ideas and a great feel for how their products are used. The danger, however, is that vendors fall slave to user demands.

What do we mean? We mean that users don’t always know what’s right. A few ornate users on Twitter, a bad review somewhere, a highly visited forum post: none of those are good reasons in and of themselves to change anything. Developers need to deliberately and carefully pick their way through community feedback, which in the headstrong ways of the internet can be hard to do. Likewise, IT consultants should focus their client’s complaints, throwing out the superfluous stuff and passing on the good ideas to vendors. The goal should be a better, more innovative product, not a few satiated customers.

We’re happy that support has improved so much. We just don’t want anon423 having undue influence over the direction of our ERP.

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Chris Bliss works at VM Associates, an end-user consultancy for businesses looking to move to the cloud from pre-existing legacy systems.