It's controversial but are the days of buying infrastructure solutions over? When I joined the IT industry it was at the time that Windows NT4 was starting to take hold and Windows 95 was being dreamt of. I spent a lot of time getting to grips with the first web server in NT4 (Internet Information Server) and trying to use Index Server to index Usenet newsgroups...though I can't remember why. Whenever the new CD arrived from Microsoft or something appeared on the web a bunch of technical guys would pore over the details. As a slight aside, check out the screenshot of the original Microsoft.com homepage - we've come a long way!
Somewhere along the line though people starting being less concerned about the ever growing feature list and more concerned about what business impact the software could have. In short, solutions started to gain traction. That's not to say that the features that get added to products aren't reasons for buying new versions but businesses started to get more concerned with the business benefits of software and slowly but surely our language changed to talk about the business value. Whilst that may seem obvious, it was quite a shift for many who were product (and feature) focused.
To give you an example, in Windows Server R2 we improved our Distributed File System feature. The new features provided a more efficient replication of files and the changes between files as they changed. In English it meant that when a file changed on a system that you wanted copied to another system the technology became more efficient at send just the changes within the file, rather than the entire new file. Sounds pretty tedious and boring and you'd struggle to sell that feature to an CEO, let alone an IT Director. Try this version though:
....by implementing the improvements within Windows Server, Paul Smith, has restored one day a week of productivity to IT staff and one hour a day of productivity to branch office staff. It’s also saving $12,000 annually in tape costs and network bandwidth is 50 percent more efficient, with some file transmissions now taking eight seconds instead of eight hours....
Sounds much better? Case studies are perhaps our most powerful way of communicating the business benefit of technology.
This is the kind of sale that we're talking more and more with our Microsoft Partners about. I spent some time recently with a local partner in Chiswick talking about this dynamic. Their customers don't necessarily want IT solutions - they want business solutions. If those business solutions happen to rely on IT that's not a problem - customers are happy to invest in IT if they seem business benefit. Ultimately they want something that has a business impact on the KPI's they care about. Does it make them more efficient (drive down costs), sell more (drive up revenue) or allow them to open a new market for example.
I'm off on the road shortly to talk more with our partners about this approach - taking solutions to customers focused on Business Efficiency, Flexible Working, Collaboration and Improved Customer Relationships. Software can help with all of these things but we need to turn it in to business language for it to resonate with customers. The message for me is that we need to get better at learning this language and translating our products features in to business solutions for our customers.