In any type of product or service, whether high-tech or not, business-to-business or consumer-oriented, features and attributes are often the key focal points for both the manufacturers and the ones selecting and purchasing a product.
Unlike goods and services that you and I purchase every day—like buying white or wheat bread—where outcomes can be easily measured and managed (such as plugging in and connecting a high-definition TV), technology solutions are often more complicated, especially solutions aimed at businesses with complex needs.
Meeting Business Needs & Reducing Complexity
Some of the time, the problem is that the solution in-question is not refined enough, and therefore, the ability to configure and use the solution is difficult. Other times, complexity is created by what is often referred to as “feature bloat” where, over time, a solution will undergo many revisions. Each system revision adds more capabilities to solve a broader range of needs and/or customers. Another culprit is “competitive parity.” If there are many vendors offering a CRM solution, for instance, many features are added in a “keep up with the Joneses”-style reactive manner.
Countless examples exist of business-oriented software that shirks ease-of-use or lacks focus on delivering maximum value in favor of features and complexity. Complexity is a big problem. Software complexity significantly increases the risk associated with the investment required to make the solution work and experience expected results. Yet most purchases tend to focus on breadth of features and functionality over the certainty for any solution to provide a given outcome. Why is this?
Buyer Confidence Research
The reality is that buyer focus on features is often driven by either a lack of understanding of the available solutions or a lack of understanding of what capabilities are truly required to meet a given need. A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research revealed that the less confident a consumer was, the more fact-based they became. The result is that, rather than focus on product-need fit, the buyer casts a wide net based upon a fact-based “feature basket.” Any vendor that answers RFPs has witnessed this. It is much easier to identify and compare features than it is to assess actual ease-of-use or compare differences in complexity. For this reason, few RFPs focus on ease-of-use, time/cost-of-deployment and solution upkeep requirements.
The gambit is that the most feature-laden software will successfully meet a given need. Many times this is not the case because the hard-to-quantify factors are the substantive factors that distinguish a successful project versus one that ends in failure.
Document Processing Software
Let’s take, for instance, document processing software as a (convenient) example. Most solutions out there include the ability to capture, classify, and extract data from documents. Under this headline set of features lie many other capabilities at-play including the types of documents that can be processed (e.g. scanned images vs. PDF) and the types of data (e.g. standardized layouts vs. data that is not structured). Underneath this layer are even more-detailed features such as the OCR engines used, templates vs. un-templated capabilities, APIs available, operating systems supported, etc. The list goes on and on.
What is not typically conveyed by vendors (and often neglected by customers) is the efficiency and experience of setting all of these features in-motion to solve a particular business need and how to verify the need is met. Instead, the emphasis is on providing a wide array of functional capabilities to meet a wide range of needs versus solving specific problems. The initial result is that the costs of document processing software itself are often 20 percent of the total costs when considering initial and ongoing support.
Double Whammy: Complex Software and Feature Focus
And the final result? In addition to spending a fortune on technology, the results are not good. Arguably, a major function of document processing software is to provide accurate data. Unfortunately, data accuracy is often poor. When 50 top BPOs were asked how they rated the accuracy of their data results from document processing, 10 percent rated results “very low ” and 50 percent rated their results as “somewhat low.” That’s a problem caused by the duo of complex software and focus on features.
Finding the Right Solution
To address this problem, it may be worthwhile to try a new approach. Customers can start by envisioning the end-state goal and evaluate options by quantifiable numbers instead of based on the features deployed. Questions worth exploring include:
- Does the software achieve a specific level of accuracy?
- What is the percentage of data that can flow through the system automatically with no manual verification?
- Is the number of staff hours reduced? By how much?
- How many documents within a given timeframe can be processed?
These elements are the “big rocks in the jar” on which customers can focus to find the best solution to meet their needs. Features are just the sand.
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