Developing ERP software is a tricky business, especially if the software is not being developed for any specific customer but rather for a range of customers, some of whom have yet to purchase your product. A software product needs to evolve, be constantly updated and advanced, if it’s not to fall into neglect and disuse, and that can happen all too often in the software market.
Henry Ford is widely, if erroneously, credited with the quote “If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse.” While Mr. Ford was correct NOT to listen to customers when he famously started his assembly line, he should have listened a little harder to trends about the types of cars people actually wanted. The problem Mr. Ford faced was that his customers didn’t know what they didn’t know – I’m sure you all know what I mean. We continually get asked for a product change, with the customer often providing the solution. But the customer can only provide a solution in the context of his or her experience. If Mr. Ford had actually asked a customer what they wanted and then probed the reply, he might have discovered that he or she just wanted something that was faster, not necessarily a horse.
At SYSPRO we are constantly thinking about product development strategies: do we write for our existing customers, or should we develop for a brand new market? These are quite different strategies; both have pros and cons, and both can have profoundly different effects on product direction. The trick, I believe, is to continue to listen to our existing customers but with an eye on market trends and to balance these two divergent views – and balance here is the key. The majority of our customers are not looking for leading-edge technology or unproven business solutions, but rather for sound and practical guidance when implementing business software. However, what is sound today might well have been considered radical just a few years ago.
Thus, it’s important to innovate and to listen to customers at the same time.
This balanced view of product development takes experience and a little nerve, both of which I think we have in abundance at SYSPRO. You only have to look at some of the technological improvements introduced in our latest version, SYSPRO 7, to see that balance in action.