The software industry is full of smoke and mirrors. A bold statement you might think, but not really.
Having been introduced to the world of computing in the early 80’s with ticker-tape fed mainframes undertaking hours of calculations for foundation measurement that could, quite frankly now be done in milliseconds on an Excel spreadsheet, I think you could say, in the QS world, I’ve seen it all.
My introduction to the world of micro computers was via an Apple IIe with two 5.25” floppy drives and 64k of memory. One floppy drive was used to load the program, the other to house the data with output to a 9 pin dot matrix printer, that could, as you might imagine, wake the dead it was so loud. They were heady days.
Then along came the game changer – the Winchester hard drive, at a price level where it was affordable in a desktop machine. I recall taking delivery of what was a cutting edge Apricot Xen with a massive 20Mb ‘Winchester’ hard drive and the advent of QS software was born.
Many players entered the market back in those heady days of DOS and early Windows and it was the usual approach to drive around the country to show off the latest and greatest in software development. Each year the hardware got faster, and software did more, to the point where a demonstrator would start to leave bits out of their presentations to keep the presentation short and manage the audience attention span – and it’s here the waters start to get murky.
It became understood, that a presenter wasn’t going to show all that their product could ‘do’ but rather show off the highlights – leave them wanting more was the mantra, and so the era of smoke and mirrors began.
Frankly, it wasn’t uncommon to find that commission based sales people were a little economic with the truth, even to the point of showing half-baked products as finished items, working their way through a finely honed presentation and hoping the client didn’t ask them to go ‘off piste’. I remember it well and learned early on to advise prospective clients to not only ask other vendors specific questions about their software, but ask to see it in action.
A great example was one of Visual Precision’s first sales to a major construction company. We were invited to platform our digitiser taking-off solution to an eager audience, who, we discovered already had several digitisers as part of a recently installed estimating system. What we discovered is that after two to three hours of viewing the estimating system they eventually purchased, they had asked about digitiser taking-off. The five minute presentation at the end of their marathon, was they thought, just a taste of what it could do. Sadly for them, they discovered too late, that what they witnesses was ALL it could do!
To our benefit we sat them through a full 90 minute presentation, showing them all the features, tips and tricks the system could do so they could witness in real-time what the system could really achieve. For them it really was once bitten twice shy, and later the same week we received an order for multiple EasyGrid™ systems.
So what, you say, has this got to do with Awards?
Well, quite a lot actually. Bear with me.
You see, sales people have to sell to earn a living. Many are commission based, so they learn pretty quickly (or go hungry) what ticks the boxes for a prospective client and what turns them off, a subject I will cover in a future blog. If they can skirt around a potential failing in the software, they naturally will in order to keep the client ‘on side’ so to speak. Typically this means preparing things ahead of time. Sample printed output is a typical way of skirting around a slow print routine, and it can also skirt neatly around a calculation routine which is abysmally slow (and there are many of those). Smoke and mirrors you see.
And so it is with awards.
Many software houses trade on the reputation of having won industry awards for their software and prospective clients sometimes look no further than a digital rosette splashed over their web site. This is where things start to go a bit wayward.
To understand what an award is worth, you need to understand how awards are won. The first thing to understand however, is why are there awards in the first place?
It’s a question that quite frankly, not many ask, they just take it on face that the award exists for some or other reason. If someone is going to structure some form of award in any industry, there must be something ‘in it’ for them, else it would be an unprofitable exercise. Now I can understand when a well funded governing body puts up and award, but it was as few years ago when I was at a business dinner when I found myself talking with someone, shall we say, really in the know – they worked at a business that effectively created awards.
“It’s all about selling seats at the awards ceremony at the end of the year” they confessed. “I worked at a business previously whose actual existence was all about awards, nothing else. Getting bums on inflated priced seats was the whole be-all-and-end-all to the business”. And so some of the smoke began to lift.
A few years later, we actually found ourselves nominated for an award. “Would we like to book a table at the Award Ceremony” we were asked. “I don’t know” I said, “how are the judges evaluating the various contenders”?
The reply really hammered home the idiocrasy of it all. Apparently, most Awards don’t come via a judging panel, simply on votes cast by email. So if an outstandingly brilliant new piece of software to a market only has 100 users versus 1000 users of an old dyed in the wool cheap-end-of-the-market established player, they’re just not going to make an impression, no matter how good the application is.
But, so I discovered, it’s even worse than this. The voting ‘public’ don’t even have to know or have used the software, they just cast their vote for!
So, it appears at least for a number of so called ‘Industry Awards’ what you need to be good at is getting people to vote for you. Not users, just anybody will do, even an automated web bot! I wonder if there’s an award for best engineered web bot – wouldn’t that be a thing!
When there’s an award judged by a panel of industry experts based on technical ability, functions, features, speed, stability, useability, accuracy and ROI, we’ll be first in the queue. Until then, we remain totally award free - they’re all smoke and mirrors.