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Out of the box experience

Every now and again we get some customers who expect that they can get a custom website, portal, or services integration done by looking at a vendor’s “out of the box” experience. This can be very frustrating for us, as we need to get into their heads that no platform will delivery any website, portal, or integration “out of the box”. I classify this as a species of magical thinking.  This sort of thinking is so persuasive among many IT systems users that they will spend $500,000 on the infrastructure and $50,000 on the development effort. They are often shocked to discover that to get all the features they demand – even when those features can be delivered trivially from the chosen platform, costs time (and therefore money) often to the equivalent value of the software licensing. The “out of the box” approach can deliver excellent results in terms of a single-point-system, let’s say a CRM (e.g. sign up for a Salesforce account) but they don’t see to integrate that CRM into their custom warehousing system (for example) and linking all of that into a comprehensive product website involves completely customised software development. Every website, portal or integration scenario is custom – always. Unless it is somehow the case that you don’t mind that your website is the default “Welcome to Apache Tomcat” page.

In recent times I’ve seen this often enough that I think it’s really a failing of the IT industry in general, and we need to educate business IT users about the various scenarios and categories of software.

The simplest analogy I can think of is to say the website or portal is the letter, and the platform is the word processor.  Regardless if you use Word, Wordperfect, Pages 09, your email program or just plain old ‘notepad.exe’, at the end of the day the time to write the letter is pretty much the same effort and therefore the task is basically identical. If you said “I want you to help me to write a letter to my member of parliament”, should  I ask you whether you’re using the new letter wizard in Word? Have you seen this great “clippy” feature? Have you considered the new upgrade to Office 2007? Tell you to buy a Mac? Or would I be better off asking who is your member of parliament and what’s the matter about? When we get these sorts of naive clients we need to concentrate their minds on what their actual problem is and the best way we can solve it, when they’ve got their head in the sand thinking about that great drag-and-drop wizard feature the vendor showed them they totally thinking about the completely wrong thing.