A minor spat on Twitter got me thinking. See image below:
@Ben_asbkltd was looking forward to hearing about the Xero roadmap at an upcoming roadshow event. My response triggered the conversation you see here. In direct messaging, Gary Turner, MD, Xero UK said that the company does publish these things. Well that’s sort of true. Stuff goes out on the blog but there isn’t really what I would call a formal process. Why should you care?
In a later Tweet, Gary referred to this post from KashFlow a while back entitled: Buy what we have today, not what we might have tomorrow. It’s not a fresh topic and one I have discussed from different perspectives in the past.
The KashFlow post got a decent amount of play with folk taking differernt positions depending upon whether they were on the buyer or seller side of the equation. Upon reflection, I think I missed a really important point and one that’s worth articulating today given that this topic has reared its head once again.
When it comes to roadmaps there are two distinct audiences:
- Potential buyers – to whom the KashFlow post seems closely aligned
- Existing buyers – who are actually the more important audience for reasons I’ll now explain
I spend a lot of time at user conferences. Central to those events are keynotes and analyst presentations that talk to the question of roadmap. On the one hand they provide a vision, on the other hand they represent a comfort factor.
Contrary to what many might have you believe, customers make long term decisions and that is nowhere more true when it comes to acquiring accounting software. In the early 2000′s the average life of a software customer used to be around five years. Now it is more likely to be 10 years. Good news for incumbents you might think. That is because the state of the art has matured to a point where switching is both difficult and unlikely to yield significant benefit. Except when a disruptive force comes along – in this case cloud accounting – and changes the game. Then we move back to a faster switching cycle while the market matures again. Only this time it is different.
This current round of solution iteration is moving at an an unprecedented pace. The speed at which the new boys and girls on the block are delivering functionality is way beyond anything I have seen in the past. That puts buyers in a different and arguably more difficult position.
On the one hand, it is easy to see how buyers might be encouraged to flit from system to system. But what if one of the vendors presented a roadmap? Would that change perceptions? I believe it would.
Roadmaps are statements of intent. They are not statements of future fact and should never be relied upon as such. If that makes them sound on par with a chocolate teapot then you’d be wrong.
Accountants who are forward thinking make sure they are at least familiar with the broad strokes of what is going on in the market. They rely on monkeys like me (and many others) to keep them informed about what ‘we’ see further down the road. They need to know a bunch of things that will help them figure whether Vendor A is preferable to Vendor B given the composition of their client portfolio. Folks like myself make our assessments based upon many points of discovery: broad mega trends, different technologies e.g. mobile, internet, adoption among customers, user experience, market adoption and of course we all have our own agendas which add into the mix.
We make judgment calls not just on the basis of the here and now but of the immediate and longer term future. At least as best we can and as best we see it based upon many points of reference. It is an important if somewhat flawed approach.
Many analysts make their calls based upon a vague understanding of markets combined with a strong belief in certain tech trends. However, that general way of working is changing. The analysts of the past are making way for a new breed that have a much closer eye on what matters to customers. Rather than simply jumping upon a tech trend, they are assessing the variety of trends that are emerging in an effort to dovetail back to how they understand specific markets and their changing needs. Key to that in the accounting profession’s case is a realisation that commoditisation has hit ‘us’ big time and therefore transformation to survive and thrive are key to the future. That in turn means that ‘we’ need a much better understanding of the ‘roads ahead.’
So…if your vendor is fighting shy of giving firm indications about where they’re going and in what broad time frame then maybe you should be thinking about their ability to understand future need plus their understanding of what it means to service customers going forward. It is important.