Monday, August 19, 2013

Database/Toolkit Software and Vision Generation: Ingredients vs. Finished Product

Database and similar “toolkit” software are wonderful in that they can do so many things.  The corresponding challenge is that database and toolkit software can be difficult to present to customers who don’t already have a vision of how they want to use these tools.  This can be vision generation at its most challenging!

Part of the problem is that the majority of customers don’t know how to translate the enormous potential offered by these packages into problem-solving applications.  They may know they have a problem –and may be interested in solving the problem, but they don’t see how the database/toolkit will help solve the problem.

Most traditional database/toolkit demos show piles of capabilities, but leave it to the customer to figure out how these features and functions will manifest as a solution to customer problems.  One beautiful solution to this challenge is to show example applications – example finished products – so that customers get a vision of what solutions might look like and relate these examples to their specific situations.

Here’s a simple analogy of two strategies for vision generation that illustrate the idea above:  showing a collection of various food ingredients vs. presenting a selection of the finished dishes. 

You go out to eat breakfast at a restaurant and are seated at your table.  A waiter brings out a cart full of breakfast ingredients, including flour, butter, eggs, potatoes, onions and other vegetables, salt, pepper, sugar, milk, cheese, baking powder, baking soda, etc.,  and says, “Look at all of this cool stuff – just imagine what wonderful dishes we could prepare for you…!”  What are you going to order? 

Has the waiter succeeded in generating a vision of a meal for you?  Likely not…!  He presented the ingredients – the tools – not the finished product, and left it to you to figure out what to do.

On the other hand, what if the waiter brought that same cart out to you – but this time it had plates of waffles, pancakes, omelets, biscuits, muffins and egg dishes, all freshly prepared.  The waiter says, “These are delicious examples of what we can prepare in our kitchen.  Any of these look particularly interesting to you?  Our kitchen can make a range of versions of all of these to your specific tastes.”

Showing the finished product makes all the difference!

But wait, there’s more…  Have you ever been in a hotel that offered an “Omelet Station” at breakfast?  This offers a great analogy for a family of related applications.  The Omelet Station operates on the reasonable assumption that you (the customer) already know what an omelet is.  Based on that assumption, you typically see an array of ingredients in bowls or bins and simply choose the combination you want.  The Omelet Station chef then prepares your specific omelet to order. 

The same principal applies to families of related database and toolkit applications.  Once a customer has seen one example application in a family, he can generally used this to develop a vision of a solution, mapping that application to his specific situation and needs.

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