What car manufacturers have taught us about product claims

Every enterprise software vendor makes claims about their product. These claims are used by customers to prioritize and ultimately select a solution based on a realistic expectation of how it will operate within their environment.  Like other vendors, we realize that these claims are much more than a simple pre-sales tools, but are a very real part of the solution building process. Not only do customers get a sense of comfort from them but will derive the overall project outcomes based on them. Their influence is significant: but what happens when these claims are not quite what they seem? 

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang 

If we step out of the world of enterprise software for a moment, the most recent and damaging example of product misrepresentation are the revelations surrounding emission testing in the car manufacturing industry. If reports are to be believed, test manipulation is almost endemic. Vehicle manufacturers are allowed by the test regime to modify the car under test. This means pumping tires to dangerous pressures, the application of high tech lubricants and disconnecting energy intensive components. 

Clearly, the manufacturers are driven to such lengths because there is a strong commercial imperative to pass the tests. They know how important these test results are to the buying decisions of their target markets. But in doing so, consumers are left believing they own a car with specific driving properties, but have no realistic way of achieving them, unless they want to drive around town with dangerously over inflated tires. The predictable conditions under which cars are tested makes it easy for car makers to engineer favorable emission results and it is more economic to "play the game" than it is to develop low emissions technology. You must display your product in the best light even if it means making unrealistic claims, as that is what everyone else does.  

The problem with Product Performance Numbers 

The enterprise software market is no different. Claims around scalability and performance are important to customers as they predict the product's behavior under present and future conditions.  Software vendors make claims regarding their product and like the motor manufacturers we get to choose our frame of reference and test criteria. If you have been in the industry for any length of time your will know that there is an art to reading enterprise software product claims. Enterprise vendors will often optimize their system tests beyond what is reasonable for a customer to implement within their own environment. This is all well and good until the customer discovers that the solution they purchased requires 40 cores, 256 GB of memory with 1 Tb of SSDs in order to get anywhere near their envisioned solution. 

Just Say No To Breach of Trust 

There is a very real danger in overstating a products capabilities and features. Customers make investment decisions off the back of them and derive confidence that we can meet current and future business process demands. At VisionWare we are committed to delivering on customer need and that includes supporting our clients in making decisions based on realistic information. When we make statements about our product lines these are always transparent and defensible. We don't fudge the numbers, because ultimately we don't want to be in the position of having an unhappy customer with unrealistic expectations of our software product. The principle is simple. The statements we make at the beginning of a project must materially match the outcomes of the project at the end. No smoke and mirrors or snake-oil or 8pt caveats hidden at the bottom of a whitepaper. If we can't meet the expectations on this basis then we don't seek to beat the test but realize that we need to roll up our sleeves and actually do the hard work of developing the technology that will.

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Topics: Insurance, Local Government

Posted by Paul James on 02 Dec 2015

About the author
Paul James

Paul James

Paul is the Chief Technology Officer at VisionWare.

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