I have been wanting to open a discussion with the ISV community for quite some time on the topic of user experience. In my role as an ISV Architecture Evangelist at Microsoft, I have the great privilege of working with many ISVs. Over the last year a couple of trends have begun to emerge.
In almost every vertical that I work with ISVs in, it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to differentiate their products from their competitors. The traditional ground for differentiation for most ISVs has been FUNCTIONS and FEATURES. It is becoming evident that in most verticals that THE FEATURE WARS ARE OVER. In most verticals there are several players who at this point have largely equivalent feature sets. Further, most ISVs have moved to shorter development cycles. This is making them more agile. Thus, feature gaps that do develop are quickly closed (there are other factors at play here as well, better tools, better methodologies, etc).
So, the question becomes, in this evolving marketplace what is the best way to differentiate your products? Clearly it is no fun to differentiate on price :). I have seen a number of ISVs pursue a strategy of differentiating based on service. While it is hard to knock this strategy, it does have one serious drawback, service dollars tend to be extremely low margin dollars.
Increasingly I have become convinced that the best place for ISVs to differentiate their products is USER EXPERIENCE. There is a large body of evidence that consumers in general and software users in particular will pay a premium for a superior user experience. In my travels I have seen several ISVs use the strategy of differentiating on user experience very successfully.
Certainly it is evident from the investments Microsoft has made that we as a company feel that this is an important strategy for both us and our partners. In the last year we have brought out a number of technologies that are designed to help ISVs provide their users with outstanding user experiences. these technologies include (but are not limited to): Windows Presentation Foundation, Windows Workflow Foundation, SilverLight, Vista, DirectX10, and the Expression Suite
So here is what I want to know:
The readers of this blog are largely the members of the ISV community. I would love to hear whether your experiences track with what I have been saying:
In your marketplace, do you feel that differentiation is still a good long term product development strategy?
Are there other areas or strategies that you thing are good bets for differentiating your products?
PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT: I WOULD LOVE TO HEAR YOUR INSIGHT!