The Value of Focus in A Platform World

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Smaller enterprise software vendors today operate in a world where their fortunes may rise and fall on their ability to integrate with one or more cloud computing platforms. In many cases, having a connector or API for multiple platforms is a great means to survive and thrive. But it’s not the only way.

Versatility has always been one of the watch words of cloud computing. The ease of adding and updating functions, or of moving to a new platform entirely, created an incentive for vendors to embrace that versatility. The CEO or CFO who is looking out for their company’s future would thus rarely be faulted for trusting vendors whose products work on as many platforms as possible.

The CTO, on the other hand, might not share that view. While that role has to allow for future moves their company might make, they are also the person who is most responsible for choosing the best tools for the job and making sure they keep working. For the CTO, a vendor’s ability to serve across multiple platforms is far less relevant than the quality, usability, and robustness of their product for the platform being used right now.

Disclosure: The inspiration for this article comes from working with FastCall (www.fastcall.com), a business communications system vendor that works exclusively with Salesforce. FastCall is my client; the words and thoughts presented here are my own. 

Is This A Game?

Think of it this way: Let’s say you have a Playstation gaming console. Does it matter if your favorite game is also available for XBox, Nintendo Switch, and PC? You can only use one system at a time, and you might not even own any of the others. A game developer that has to patch and create new content on multiple platforms will probably have a longer release schedule, introduce relatively more bugs with each update, and might not focus on issues specific to the Playstation if the XBox is a squeakier wheel.

A multiplatform business software vendor, likewise, has to retain staff for support and updates for every version of the product. This, when added to development and marketing of new products for those platforms, means greater overhead, and probably higher prices passed to the customer. Specialist vendors like FastCall can run very lean and still deliver an excellent product for their chosen environment.

The video game analogy maps well to enterprise software, but here’s another one to consider: mobile apps. When you browse for apps to add to your phone (as opposed to looking for a specific one), you are presented with a list of possibilities that can be very hard to distinguish. The main differentiator is their rating, and those are known to be skewed toward the extreme ends of the scale. It can be hard to tell, and somewhat time consuming, to figure out which of them have been updated regularly—or ever. Is the app that hasn’t been touched since 2014 flawless, or did the developer stick it on the list because it was good enough and would earn some money without intervention? You might—might—be able to filter by most recently added, but newness is no guarantee of maintenance.

Users run into the same issue with third-party applications that run alongside their cloud business software. The app marketplaces are geared to show the best rated and the newest applications, not the ones that are most thoroughly maintained. Yet maintenance is an important sign of quality, because it means the developer is still listening, still actively updating their apps, doing more than the minimum required to stay listed. 

The Updates Must Flow

Large vendors will have the resources to keep the updates flowing, but if a small vendor is doing it, that’s a sign of commitment. Their app isn’t an ancillary revenue stream, it’s their livelihood. FastCall is its product. A company that exists to create high quality apps for a software platform will cease to exist if it stops making apps, but also if it stops delivering quality.
It makes perfect sense to engage a big software brand to provide your business computing platform—the bigger the platform, the more it can hold. What you put on that platform doesn’t have to come from big vendors. For major, mission-critical applications, sure, go with a top seller. But for all the things those products don’t do, and for anything new you want to try, bigger isn’t always better. For specific functions, your best bet is often a small vendor that only develops for this one platform. They will put in the work, and they will be there for their customers, because their existence literally depends on it.

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