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Technology Hoping to Solve a Problem

The internet has supported an explosion of software tools for almost any imaginable application. Many of these tools are the result of real-world efforts to solve complex data or process integration problems. Realizing the similarity between the needs for initial specific solution and thousands of other businesses, the developers reasonably assume that the basic framework of the toolset has tremendous market potential. The range of such tools is vast including knowledge management, data analytics, data integration, mobile applications and many more.

At first, the developer analyzes the market opportunity by primarily looking at businesses that have very similar needs to the initial solution. As the analysis continues, similarities appear beyond that core market and a process of abstraction begins where custom, vertical industry functionality is stripped from the solution in order to make the tool set more broadly applicable. The irony is that this process takes the developer farther away from the real world solution that made it meaningful and attractive to the business customer.

Spurred on by the imagined enormous market potential assumed via the abstraction process, the developer continues to find ways to make the tool set more adaptable and universally applicable to every industry. Along the way, the language used to describe the solution evolves. Initially, the benefits were described in terms of user functionality, productivity and other business outcomes. Now, the benefits are described in terms of adaptability, customization, programming flexibility and other technical attributes.

To complicate the analysis even more, the developer assumes that making these tools available on the internet (or the ubiquitous ‘cloud’) at a very low price will automatically generate large volumes of sales as customers flock to the technology. Of course, lost in all of this is the business user who paid for the initial solution, along with anyone else who needs such a solution. Instead, the software developer industry is provided with yet another array of tools looking for a problem to solve.

Business leaders, however, are not looking for tool sets to solve business application or information processing problems. They are looking for solutions. The only way for the new tool set to be presented as a relevant solution to any new business customer is if a software developer performs custom programming. Sometimes, the tools include a large array of customization or configuration features, which require highly technical resources to manipulate them.

Of course, solutions must be built on state of the art, reliable and functional technologies. The investment in information technology solutions must not only produce the desired business outcomes now, it must be affordable and easy to support and maintain well into the future. Presented with a myriad of tool sets, the business leader is not equipped to discern the value of any one of them. Nor can he or she piece together the remaining components of a solution without a competent IT partner. Frankly, there is little about the value proposition offered by these tool sets that appeals to a business leader who measures productivity and profitability in terms such as margins, cash flow, cycle times, customer acquisition and retention and other business performance metrics.

Of course, these tool sets may indeed offer value to someone. Typically, that someone is a technical person assessing whether the cost of the tool combined with the proposed cost and time savings versus other alternatives will justify the expense. The developer of the tools must recognize who their ultimate buying audience is and adjust the value propositions and marketing efforts accordingly. Either use the tools to produce real business solutions for business leaders, or focus on providing the technical community with tools that improve their productivity. Throwing tools into the cloud and waiting for the magic to happen, or simply hoping that business leaders will find a use for them is likely to add the tools to a long list of good ideas that nobody ever heard of.

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