There comes a time in every product's life when a difficult decision must be made: What will it do for a living?
Having been conceived out of one of your recent telco projects, your new database/automation/integration/whatever solution is coming of age. It's been productized and recently v1.0 has been successfully deployed at a second tier-2 telco.
A. Partner with a large system integrator (SI) and help it to become a generalist, capable of offering something to every enterprise system?
B. Take a vocational path and specialize it into a your niche area of technology in the telco industry?
Let’s Go Large!
The first option, a generalized solution, is tempting. You look at other products, perhaps a couple of years older than yours, and see them doing very well working with IBM/HP/Logica/Whoever. They've been involved in their first few projects. They're on the ladder to great things. The opportunities are endless. That's the life you want for your young product, right?
You spend the next 6-12 months preparing your product for a glittering career in middleware. The developers are as enthusiastic as you: They've been writing well architected code that can be refactored to do almost anything. They strip out the telco-specific logic and UI elements. They add data driven configuration, and open API, and code plug-in support.
The upgraded product gets it's first real job, in a telco funnily enough. You hand-hold it through to completion of the project. It's a success! Issue the press release!
Then things just don't go quite the way you had hoped for your product. It gets on OK, to be fair: A couple of complicated (but quite low paid)deployments with banks. A short term project with an electricity company.
The product proves itself useful, but it never quite manages to get on well with others. Its managers at the SI are concerned that it needs too much configuration and as such is taking far too long to show results. They're increasingly reluctant to include it in projects unless you're there to help out. You stretch your resources to help your product deliver the goods, and try to learn the needs of a variety of quite different industries.
Now, after a couple of years, those products that have worked hard in narrow, slightly geeky, industries are suddenly doing well. Ok, no-one’s talking about them at dinner parties, but they’re delivering great results to their customers and earning an impressive income thanks to their unique benefits.
Time for a family meeting. What now for your product? It's not too late to change it’s not happy working with an SI.
A. Invest in developing tool-sets, documentation and training to enable rapid, economical projects delivered by the SI?
B. Accept that maybe telco is the right vocation after all and invest in specializing the product's out-of-the-box functionality to a specific set of needs?
Generic or Niche Product?
Did you start in telco? Did you come up with a great product to solve a telco problem then realize your talented developers created something massively flexible?
Don’t be too quick to give up the technology heritage of your company to broaden you target market. You lose a significant advantage in being able to talk to your customers knowledgably and understand their needs. You’ll also have to sell at least twice as hard to convince customers that they need more middleware and the associated services to deploy it.
Yes, you can make money from generic solutions. Platforms, services and middleware all have their place. Be aware it’s a different game from selling solutions to your peers.
To sell middleware to a wide audience you have to invest in marketing communications, developer tools, education and support. Your focus becomes enabling everyone (internal and partners) to promote the solution and then rapidly deliver your product.
Keep your product in a niche, and you can leverage both your domain knowledge and a product that is already tuned and configured to the industry’s needs. You give the market functionality with a clear benefit or RoI, and a more predictable project scope.
Investment must focus on market intelligence, improving functionality and packaging pre-configured solution for your smaller target markets.