Who cares about efficiency? (Part 2)

This post continues from part 1 where I observed that our macro obsession with efficiency does not automatically translate into the purchase of efficiency-boosting IT products.  Product managers may have good intentions, but there’s more to delivering overall efficiency than optimizing a singular IT process or function.  This concluding post will look at the costs our customers must balance against the benefits we claim.

How much does it cost?

“How much does it cost?” is largely under the product manager’s control.  Many vendors have historically tried to nickel-and-dime customers with excessive options and licenses.  My experience has been to simplify pricing with three or fewer options for a broad portfolio and just one or two options for a new product to remove licensing as a barrier to adoption.  The pricing decision gets easier when you’re not fixated on collecting every possible dollar from every customer.  When I introduced a new software product a few years ago, we optimized for sales velocity and priced one license for all product capabilities.  We subsequently added a lower cost option, but resisted the temptation to offer a la carte options.

Even when the product manager believes that cost transparency has been achieved, indirect acquisition costs come into play.  Other purchases may be required to deliver all of the required capability – rust-proofing anyone?  Some of these may be asset acquisition and some may be professional services or consulting.  The IT industry is littered with products requiring extensive consulting and customization to make them operational and deliver on the vendor’s promises.  I constantly hear customer feedback to make a product work properly out of the box.  Not long ago I called engineering and product managers together to set our priority around ease of deployment and overall usability rather than adding more features.  Product managers can drive their team’s thinking around the out-of-box experience (or, “I signed up for the service, now what?”) before assuming product usage begins once the product is fully configured.

How easily can I implement it?

This brings us to the third factor: ease of implementation.  It’s clear that consulting and customization services will add to implementation cost.  Are these one-time or ongoing costs?  Does the customer need to re-engage services whenever the vendor releases an update?  Customers may find it difficult to fully assess implementation complexity depending on the type of product in question.  Standard interfaces, wizards that step users through multi-step configurations, and sensible defaults are just a few ways to make easy things easy.  One of my product teams created a priority for automation software to include out-of-box wizards and workflows, enabling customers to be self-sufficient in product deployment.

Ease of Implementation goes beyond money.  The time required to deploy the product and get promised value can have a large impact on whether the product is viable.  IT organizations have busy times of the year and narrow change windows during which they deploy new products.  Subject matter experts are typically busy without slack time to indulge in extra projects.  The product is competing with other projects for each change window.  Higher priority projects to fix problems (aspirin anyone?) or roll out new business offerings can easily wear down motivation to “do the right thing” by increasing efficiency.

It’s no surprise that customers don’t immediately deploy new products that promise greater efficiencies.  Asking people to step through a detailed evaluation and navigate their myriad dependencies inevitably takes the shine off the desire to be more efficient.  I’ve watched customers in briefings get excited about a new way to improve data center efficiency, followed by the more sober assessment of the time and effort to follow through on the vision.

So who cares about efficiency?  Most IT professionals.

Should we continue building efficient products?  Yes!

There is a difference between caring about something and channeling that caring into action. If product managers believe that efficiency is important, we can build products that minimize barriers to adoption and effectively lead users through clear steps to be successful…and efficient.

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