Some simple New Year's resolutions for vendors – lots of love, suffering IT grunts of world xox
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With the start of a new year, we're encouraged to set big goals for our personal and professional lives.
While the internet is full of the "Top Tech Predictions" for the coming year, one thing is certain: IT professionals will still be at the mercy of product vendors. That's how the relationship works. The big (and small) companies make the things and we implement and support them. We manage the balance of enabling our users to do great things while wrangling security features, backups and generally saving users from themselves.
To some extent, this places limitations on our goals for the new year. We can't plan for a bug-free October or a six-month production environment change freeze. Our IT projects are influenced by product end-of-life dates and major version releases.
But what if you could change how vendors work in 2018? Grab a seat at their boardroom table and let's set some new year's resolutions for our favourite tech companies.
1. We will provide advanced, accurate notice of release dates
When working on a new feature release or a completely new product, it's better to give the masses a generalised "Q2" timeframe than to set a date and miss it. The problem is when we are two-thirds of the way through Q2 and the vendor hasn't updated that release timeframe. Is it still Q2? Will that thing really land within the next four weeks? If an expectation has been set with the business users and that date is going to slip, tell us as soon as you know, please. And if you are on track to still release this quarter, tell us that too! Oh, and global Software-as-a-Service vendors – you can improve your rollout dates. None of this "US & UK now and everyone else sometime within the next 12 months."
2. We will release thorough and relevant documentation
Most of the challenges that IT professionals face with new products (or new features) aren't initial setup problems. Vendors have usually made that part pretty simple. What trips us up is "how do we do X?", including specific use cases and environmental integration challenges. To start with, make sure you have the basics covered in your documentation, including "how you can restrict who can use this?" and "how you can back up and restore the data in this?" Those are two examples of very common IT pro questions that are often overlooked in the initial documentation.
With technology changing so rapidly (again, looking at you SaaS vendors), it's increasingly difficult to find current documentation. Please date your support articles. And be specific about what version of your product they relate to. It's very frustrating to find an article or video on doing the thing that you need, only to realise it's different in the version that you upgraded to three weeks ago.
If you really want to wow us, play with some common real-world environmental scenarios and document those. We'd love to see "this is how you do X with the new feature if you're still also using Server OS version Y" or "how X works if your environment is tightly locked down." And though we understand that you can't possible create every weird scenario that we've glued together, support your tech fans and content creators who are happy to play and blog their findings by amplifying their work through your official channels. You'll have a much happier IT pro audience for it.
3. Our product training will be flexible
There are two big issues faced by IT pros when consuming product training – we have often have limited, interrupted time and we need to make relevant connections between what we're learning and what we'll be doing in the real world. Vendor product training lets us down when it's too long, it doesn't spell out in enough detail what we will learn, and when we're forced to complete modules about features we'll never use. Vendors need to account for this by breaking up training into smaller chunks that are easy to track progress on. Let us pick and choose our own learning path to suit our current needs, and come back to other things later when we need them.
The most helpful thing that a vendor can do is connect us with a knowledgeable contact for our "how do I" questions, when the training, knowledgebase or forums didn't help. And I don't mean your first-level support desk. We need someone who knows the product, isn't just following a troubleshooting script and has some experience with various customer scenarios. Give account managers a trusty tech support sidekick and you're on the right track.
4. Our support process will actually be helpful
When we do encounter product issues, we want to deal with vendor support people who know what they are doing. I know, this is earth-shattering stuff. While some vendors separate personal consumer and business support, not all let IT pros skip the "have you tried turning it off and on again?" interrogation. Some vendors do, if you pay a fee for premium support.
So, dear vendors, commit to listening to the IT pro who has logged the support ticket. Read the case notes. Keeping one person ultimately responsible for the ticket would be great, even if it's escalated. Communicate regularly about what's happening because we hate having radio silence for four days, then having to phone you for an update – only to get someone who has no idea what's happening and asks us if we've tried turning it off and on again.
5. Our conferences will be relevant and practical
The annual conference is the vendor's chance to get everyone inspired again. It's a magical showcase of "how people are changing the world with our technology". But it can be a far cry from what IT pros are dealing with back in the office. There's still a place for exciting and groundbreaking, just don't fill the entire conference agenda with it. IT pros need to leave a conference with some concrete ideas and next steps for their world, or they won't feel like it was valuable.
Showcase customers who have overcome challenges. Don't hide tricky implementation scenarios for the fear of showing your product in a bad light. Balance product marketing manager sessions with stories of how Business X went from this old setup to this new utopia and what they overcame along the way. That will resonate more with your audience than "now we're curing diseases with AI".
So, who's up for the challenge?
Setting new year resolutions is the easy part. Committing to them is another story. Your favourite vendor already has 2018 well and truly planned, but that shouldn't stop us from providing them with our usual candid level of feedback. Will they truly listen? We have had success in the past with notable product and strategy U-turns. Let's just hope we have more success than sticking with our own resolutions. ®