Is Software a Solution or a Tool?

Most people believe simple is best practice . But I also believe we often get it wrong when we describe our product and services.

Software vendors by nature to survive must be leaders of best practice, but they often talk in riddles and high fluting assumptive terms about basic processes and activity. I was drawn to an article I read at Technology Evaluation.com by Sherry Fox This is good read about enigmatic terms used by the software vendors.  My contribution here adds my perspective to her opinions.

Like processes I believe simple is best to describe product and services.  A colleague once said to me, “I had looked your  web site and for the life of me, I could not figure out what that you guys do.”

I was thankful for the feedback but that bombshell sent me immediately to have it changed. And it was easy too, we just cut all the crap.

In her article Sherry Fox talks about software vendors who call their product “Solutions”. That drives me crazy too and I sell and recommend their software for them in my consulting practice. They really make their life hard and puts buyers and consultants offside as we  have to sort out for ourselves the confusing product names and acronyms, badly positioned sales mumbo jumbo and filter out the meaningless non-information, to try to see what they really have to offer. Of course it is all part of the game to look impressive while also keeping the competitor confused.

I like Sherry carpenter’s tool example of the hammer, to drive a nail. It is clearly a tool not a solution. In another spectrum to resolve a war conflict a government  can use the army and that is are not a solution either. It is a tool of war or defence. Equally to negotiate for the same end uses a diplomatic tool.

Software is software, no-more no-less, so why not just call it that. Of course we all agree it is not just technology but includes people with skills to set it up and train us how to use it. And to put it into a process requires consulting for implementation and change management, which can add to the effort. But in the end what we finish with is still just a software tool.

A spreadsheet is an office tool and no one calls it a solution. Operational, accounting, work-flow, client, project budgeting, collaboration, presentation, communication asset and human management reporting and so on you can go, they are all software tools to do a job. Analytical, mathematical, scientific, educational, etc in every walk of life and function of business you will find software. As I rattle them off I can see synergy to combine some or all into enterprise level tools that provide structure rules and a place of work for many elements of business and operational process.

Like any invention or idea software is invented and used to solve problems of many origins. But there is no way it can presume to be a solution. It is still just a tool. When enterprise software vendors talk about solutions I think of problems and I turn off. If I have something to do I use a tool to do it. If I have a problem I figure what to do to fix it. Then I use a tool.

Even the end game, the result, may depend on my approach. and the tool, the solution used or for the outcome I want to deliver the benefit I want may vary. (Sorry Ms Jane Ordinary, I still need the business case.)

And I don’t always just have a problem. I many just have something to do like a strategic change or tactical move for an opportunity. For that I plan an approach then we get the tools and resources I need, to get outcome I seek. In the process we look at choices and choose. This could have many solutions as we proceed.

So the real test of what software is shows up when I ask the question. “If I need to get a result would I asked the software company get it for me”. Of course not. I would ask an expert to look at the choices. Then set up a team to go and see if there is a software tool (not a solution) that can fit our culture and we can learn to use it to get what we seek.

What Software Vendors have is one piece of the process. So they confuse me too talking about all of these aspects in the same terms of as a “Solution”.

Like Ms Jane Ordinary I am just your average  Jo C who likes to use the best tools to get the best result. And assembling solutions is just a step in the process to get there.

By the way if my business colleagues, knew I was a Solutions Salesman they may figure I had an important job but would would be unlikely to call me. On the other hand if they knew I sold business performance management software they would know what I had to offer and may suggest it as a choice to their bosses to create a solution for a business problem.

My advice to Software Vendors is drop all the bull. As much as I say this to  my fellow software salesmen I am going to take it my own advice myself too to make it easy on everyone and just call a spade a spade.

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