March 23, 2014

Wants vs. needs

In 1981, Gerry Chichester and Vaughan Merlyn did a user-survey-based report about transaction-oriented fourth-generation languages, the leading application development technology of their day. The report included top-ten lists of important features during the buying cycle and after implementation. The items on each list were very similar — but the order of the items was completely different. And so the report highlighted what I regard as an eternal truth of the enterprise software industry:

What users value in the product-buying process is quite different from what they value once a product is (being) put into use.

Here are some thoughts about how that comes into play today.

Wants outrunning needs

1. For decades, BI tools have been sold in large part via demos of snazzy features the CEO would like to have on his desk. First it was pretty colors; then it was maps; now sometimes it’s “real-time” changing displays. Other BI features, however, are likely to be more important in practice.

2. In general, the need for “real-time” BI data freshness is often exaggerated. If you’re a human being doing a job that’s also often automated at high speed — for example network monitoring or stock trading — there’s a good chance you need fully human real-time BI. Otherwise, how much does a 5-15 minute delay hurt? Even if you’re monitoring website sell-through — are your business volumes really high enough that 5 minutes matters much? eBay answered “yes” to that question many years ago, but few of us work for businesses anywhere near eBay’s scale.

Even so, the want for speed keeps growing stronger. 🙂

3. Similarly, some desires for elastic scale-out are excessive. Your website selling koi pond accessories should always run well on a single server. If you diversify your business to the point that that’s not true, you’ll probably rewrite your app by then as well.

4. Some developers want to play with cool new tools. That doesn’t mean those tools are the best choice for the job. In particular, boring old SQL has merits — such as joins! — that shiny NoSQL hasn’t yet replicated.

5. Some developers, on the other hand, want to keep using their old tools, on which they are their employers’ greatest experts. That doesn’t mean those tools are the best choice for the job either.

6. More generally, some enterprises insist on brand labels that add little value but lots of expense. Yes, there are many benefits to vendor consolidation, and you may avoid many headaches if you stick with not-so-cutting-edge technology. But “enterprise-grade” hardware failure rates may not differ enough from “consumer-grade” ones to be worth paying for.

7. Some enterprises still insist on keeping their IT operations on-premises. In a number of cases, that perceived need is hard to justify.

8. Conversely, I’ve steered clients away from data warehouse appliances and toward, say, Vertica, because they had a clear desire to be cloud-ready. However, I’m not aware that any of those companies ever actually deployed Vertica in the cloud.

Needs ahead of wants

1. Enterprises often don’t realize how much their lives can be improved via a technology upgrade. Those queries that take 6 hours on your current systems, but only 6 minutes on the gear you’re testing? They’d probably take 15 minutes or less on any competitive product as well. Just get something reasonably modern, please!

2. Every application SaaS vendor should offer decent BI. Despite their limited scope, dashboards specific to the SaaS application will likely provide customer value. As a bonus, they’re also apt to demo well.

3. If your customer personal-identity data that resides on internet-facing systems isn’t encrypted — why not? And please don’t get me started on passwords that are stored and mailed around in plain text.

4. Notwithstanding what I said above about elasticity being overrated, buyers often either underrate their needs for concurrent usage, or else don’t do a good job of testing concurrency. A lot of performance disappointments are really problems with concurrency.

5. As noted above, it’s possible to underrate one’s need for boring old SQL goodness.

Wants and needs in balance

1. Twenty years ago, I thought security concerns were overwrought. But in an internet-connected world, with customer data privacy and various forms of regulatory compliance in play, wants and needs for security seem pretty well aligned.

2. There also was a time when ease of set-up and installation were underrated. Not any more, however; people generally understand its great importance.


3 Responses to “Wants vs. needs”

  1. DBMS2 revisited | DBMS 2 : DataBase Management System Services on March 23rd, 2014 7:53 am

    […] streams. That said, while I hear a lot about a BI need-for-speed, I often suspect it of being a want-for-speed instead. So while I’m interested in writing a more focused future post on real-time data […]

  2. Barney Finucane on March 26th, 2014 5:23 am

    The most common by far reason for users to abandon (or complain about) BI solutions is slow query speed. But query speed is rarely even tested when the software is being selected.

    The most common reason for implementations to fail (before real world performance even gets tested)is long implementation time.

    These two fact put together explain why departmental solutions with in-memory databases are a source of permanent disruption, but can never quite conquer the world — when they try to conquer the world, they lose their competitive advantage.

  3. NoSQL vs. NewSQL vs. traditional RDBMS | DBMS 2 : DataBase Management System Services on March 28th, 2014 1:21 pm

    […] Wants vs. needs (March, 2014) […]

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